Practicing Radical Gratitude: How Deep the Father’s Love for Us

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

The Catholic Worker Movement adheres to the principle of nonviolence.  Nonviolence does not accurately mean the absence of violence, but demands instead creative alternatives to prevent violence and peaceful forms of responding to violence when it does arise.  Our community proposes nonviolence as the only option when dealing with conflict, and has learned that building relationships and getting to know people (by name) is key to deescalating a violent situation.

Nonviolence remains one of the primary tenets of the Catholic Worker, echoing Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). The “Aims and Means of the Catholic Worker” testify:

“Only through nonviolent action can a personalist revolution come about, one in which evil will not be replaced simply by another [form of violence]. Thus, we oppose the deliberate taking of human life for any reason, and see every oppression as blasphemy. Jesus taught us to take suffering upon ourselves rather than inflict it upon others, and He calls us to fight against violence with the spiritual weapons of prayer, fasting and noncooperation with evil.”

Extreme weather summons out violent behavior.  Spring and fall bring a welcome respite from the impatience, agitation, and anger that the extreme climates of summer and winter so effortlessly ignite.  At this time of year, when the heat index climbs toward three digits in South Bend, the frigid winter has all too quickly been forgotten.  But I cannot so easily shake the memory of the most serious display of violence I have ever encountered.

February 1—also known as the first day of the month, when people receive their government assistance checks—coincided with the worst threat of snow for the 2010-2011 winter season: twenty inches in a matter of hours.  Our first-time hosts for Weather Amnesty (WAM) had never stayed overnight before; nevertheless they were willing to battle the impending snow-mageddon to come host, for which I was deeply thankful.

Calmed by Evening Prayer, I set out afoot with two of our WAM guests to walk the half-mile from our houses to Our Lady of the Road.  My community mates had curiously dubbed the day “Aimee Day” at dinner that night (for no reason at all), spelling my name in bread and hanging food-décor around the room for pizzazz.  It all seemed a little ominous to me, and I should have trusted my gut.

When I descended the front steps of our three-story, late 19th century men’s house yelling “Bring it, South Bend.  Bring it,” into the horizontally-blowing arctic snow scene, I should have known better than to taunt lake effect.  South Bend brought it.

There were 15 men waiting for the 10 WAM spots when I arrived that night.  I let them come in early because of the inclement weather.  I tried to hurriedly set up, orient the new hosts, fold towels, and prepare the Breathalyzer, all in a rushed way so as to not leave the men waiting in the cold doorway, their coats and bags dripping with melting snow.

I asked the visibly intoxicated man to take a seat and started checking in the ten men from the previous night (their beds were reserved for consecutive nights if they showed up by 8pm).  As I reached the ninth man on the list (we will call him Bill), he came running out of the shower to check-in (obviously having cut the shower line) complaining that our protocol for showers was inefficient, which is why, he explained, it was constantly ignored.  Next thing I knew, another guest (“Dale”) came running after Bill, yelling at him, and yelling at me.  Reminiscent of my high school babysitting days, the two of them simultaneously recounted each one’s own version of what had just previously unfolded: at some point threats were exchanged and a knife had been pulled.

I caught my breath.  There was a knife?  What is the protocol when a grown man, visibly upset, pulls a knife on another man who is equally disturbed?  Thankfully my train of thought resorted to our orientation sessions for Weather Amnesty hosts and reminded me of practical steps to take in such a situation.  They hypothetical scenario we had depicted in our training sessions had been realized: violence had escalated and people were taking sides.  It was my responsibility to respond, nonviolently.

My “boss lady” mode kicked into gear.  (A guest at Our Lady of the Road, who now lives at our men’s house, gave me the title “Boss Lady” a couple years ago when I was ripe to the Catholic Worker and far from resembling anyone’s boss.  I guess my natural Martha-like temperament and desire for organization give the initial impression that I can take charge when needed.)

So I took charge. I asked the two men to take a step back from one another and to have a seat.  Surprisingly, they complied.  They emptied their pockets (upon my request) and sure enough, a knife appeared on the bed.  I asked that the knife owner stay seated and he obeyed, staying calm and seated for the next half an hour.

I stepped into our supply closet to call a housemate for reinforcement.  I did not even realize I was shaken up until I heard myself stumble over her name on the phone.  She grabbed three other staff members and arrived immediately—or as fast as one could through streets already piled with half a foot of snow.

Together, the four of us assessed and handled the situation well.  We had to ask both men to spend the night elsewhere and offered to drive them to their lodging of choice.  Violence of any form cannot be tolerated.  A part of hospitality means guarding our guests against violence, even if it means asking someone to leave on the worst night of a South Bend winter.   We do this because we must be clear in our effort to sow a culture of nonviolence, even if people call us hypocrites and unchristian because it looks inhospitable to put someone out in a blizzard.

I am reminded of the closing paragraph of the “Aims and Means of the Catholic Worker,” as reprinted in the May 2008 issue of the newspaper:

“We must be prepared to accept seeming failure with these aims, for sacrifice and suffering are part of the Christian life. Success, as the world determines it, is not the final criterion for judgments. The most important thing is the love of Jesus Christ and how to live His truth.”

We are choosing to commit our lives to people who will undoubtedly let us down.  We ask our guests (and one another) to trust us too, and we will inevitably let them down.  We will let ourselves down too.  And yet, this give-until-it-hurts-and-then-give-some-more style is the way God loves us.  God commits every ounce of God’s omnipresent Being to us, when, time and again, we choose self over other, busyness over prayer, success over faithfulness.


Recalling this circumstance and so many others shared in our Catholic Worker community, I cannot help but think of the hymn, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.”  That night (among other encounters) revealed what I am repeatedly discovering anew: I do not have all the answers, despite my donned title of Boss Lady.  Thankfully, joined with others in community—united—we do have some answers and, together, we can confront some pretty hard stuff.

But it’s not all hard stuff.  So much of it is good…and truly, very fun.  It is now June, seedlings are in the ground, fresh compost covers the raised garden beds in our yards, fresh lemonade complements our nightly picnic-style dinners in our women’s back yard, and summer volunteers bolster our community with their energy, idealism, and friendship.  Winter is far from our mind, as it should be for a little while.

For now it is the time of late-night bonfires, beach trips, front-porch sitting, and a season of refreshment nourished by fresh vegetable salads, homemade pesto and cucumber-infused water.  Truly, how blessed this life is.  How deep the Father’s love for us.


Editorial Updates: 6/13-6/17


Another exciting week ahead for Oblation.  This morning, we published the third column of Fr. Jeremy Driscoll’s The Bible and the Liturgy.  Later this week (we’ll be away on Wednesday, so won’t be able to published as usual on this date), we’ll feature another column by Aimee Shelide on Practicing Radical Gratitude.  And we’ll begin a series providing catechesis on the Mass by an alum of the ECHO program in the Institute for Church Life, Jonathan Lewis.

Finally, we hope to post either on Friday or this weekend a series of reflections on Corpus Christi by Tim O’Malley.

A quick note regarding our June conference.  There is still time to register for the Formed for the Liturgy, Reformed by the Liturgy.  This will be our last conference under the current format, so we encourage those who have never been to check it out before we launch next year’s Symposium on the Eucharist, “Become What You Receive, Receive What You Are.”

The Bible and Liturgy: Reflections on the Nature of Liturgical Language

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

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

(For Part I of this series, click here; For Part II, click here).

“The Bible and the Liturgy are inextricably intertwined.”  That is the theme that I am always wanting to explore in these reflections.  This month I want to offer some thoughts about the nature of the language we use in the liturgy.  Of course, in the readings the language comes directly from the Bible itself, and that is a fundamental dimension of liturgical language.  But the rest of the language of the liturgy is in fact a very delicate interplay of scriptural, liturgical, and doctrinal language.

When I enter the liturgy, I enter a world in which language is used in a unique way.  Every piece of the liturgy— language included— builds up a mysterious world in which divine realities are revealed, realities in themselves not directly perceivable by the senses.  But the ritual use of concrete objects, human gestures, and language puts us in touch with those divine realities. The language of the liturgy at every turn touches up against these invisible realities.  It mediates our contact with them.

Thus, everything in the liturgy is referential: referring to something which refers to something (which refers to something) which refers ultimately to the Holy Trinity and our participation in this divine communion.  There is a huge coherence— a Logos(!)— which pervades it all.  Every structure and every mini-structure within the structures, every little logos (word), refers to the divine Logos (Word), the divine coherence.  The structure of the liturgy, language included, reflects this divine coherence.  The way in which things are put together and held together is in fact where the particular genius of a particular liturgical tradition finds expression.  Things are held together in large frameworks or patterns.

In the Roman liturgy some of these frameworks or patterns would be the following:  time and eternity, heaven and earth held together in a gratuitous communion;  an anthropology of fallen and redeemed humanity; the past and future made present; the manifestation of and participation in trinitarian life; communion in holy things, that is, communion with other particular churches across the world and across time; communion with the saints in heaven and with the angels.  But look!  These frameworks in reality are a deep synthesis or condensation of huge strands or themes that run through the whole Bible.

Coming more directly to the question of language from out of this vision of its larger context, it can be observed that in the Roman Missal the language and vocabulary are scriptural and patristic.  What scriptural means may be obvious enough, and yet we need to tune into the fact that the language of the liturgy (prayers that are not readings from the Bible) is in part a marvelous web of biblical citations and allusions.

To describe the Missal’s language as patristic is a little more complicated, and yet a summary analysis of the dynamic of language in this period can tell us much. The patristic tradition to a large extent is a particular way of reading Scripture.  The Fathers wanted their language to be scriptural; they required this of themselves.  And yet in a culture different from that which gave rise to the scriptural texts, such a requirement was not easily fulfilled.  The Rule of Faith— a brief, somewhat fluid, verbal summary of the faith that came from the apostles —was an operative principle alive in all the churches.  With this principle the Canon of Scripture and an orthodox way of reading it were determined.   This Rule is likewise the basis for the more fixed summaries of the Creeds of the Councils and other conciliar formulae.  But it is a principle which is through and through scriptural:  it derives from Scripture, is its summary, and is used in turn to read it.

It is only in this context of Scripture and the Rule of Faith that we can adequately understand the liturgy and how language is used there; for Scripture’s most basic meaning is determined by the reality accomplished in its proclamation in the liturgical assembly.  What this reality and mystery are is fixed with precision by the language of the Rule of Faith, for Scripture just by itself can mean too many things, as the early Church’s experience with Gnosticism is sufficient to show.  This liturgical context also indicates something crucial about the nature of the language of the Rule of Faith and the conciliar Creeds and doctrinal formulations which derive from them; namely, that the foundation for the content of faith lies in the mysterious realities achieved in the believing assembly wherein that faith is professed and celebrated.  Thus we find that the “extra-scriptural” language of the liturgy stands at an absolutely critical juncture between scriptural language and the more precise formulation of what the Church believes.  What she believes is happening in the actual celebration of the liturgy.  It is ultimately nothing less than communion in divine trinitarian life.  In so far as this is expressed in language, it is a very delicate interplay of scriptural, liturgical, and doctrinal language. In short, the language of the Roman Missal represents the synthesis of key ideas of biblical faith.  This language is a lex orandi upon which a lex credendi is formulated, a “rule” of prayer on which a “rule” of believing is formulated. The christological, trinitarian, Marian, ecclesial, anthropological, angelic realities and controversies and solutions are all reflected in the Missal’s language; and they still matter for the Church today.

There would be no end of examples of what I am talking about, for all the language of the Missal is the example.  Here I have wanted only to indicate the principles by which liturgical language comes into being.  The achievement of such language in the orignal Latin of the Roman Missals is the product of centuries of sifting and refinement.  The new English translation of that Missal will give us much closer renditions of this multilayed language, and so we will be able to hear in it more clearly the echoes of Scripture and the ancient Rule of Faith.

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.


Marginalized Feasts: Ascension and Pentecost

Timothy P. O’Malley, PhD (candidate)

(Acting) Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Co-editor, Oblation

Contact Author

By the end of this weekend, Eastern and Western Christians alike will conclude their celebration of the Easter season.  Yet, the two feasts that mark the end of this season, among Catholics in particular, are often anything but a triumphant close to the celebration of Christ’s Paschal Mystery.  The Ascension is treated almost with a sense of embarrassment that Christians could believe something as scientifically impossible as Christ flying about through the heavens.  Pentecost is in better standing with frequent mention in both homilies and song of the Holy Spirit and the mission of the Church.  But, such language is often employed on this day without a deeper understanding of the mystery to which it refers.  It is not too dire to claim that the feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost are marginalized solemnities of misunderstood doctrines.

I’d like to suggest that our primary problem with these feasts is an insufficiently low ecclesiology.  What do I mean by low ecclesiology?  A low ecclesiology is one that fails to perceive the Church as a mystery, a sacrament, an icon of divine life (hence, a high ecclesiology is one that does treat the Church as a mystery, a sacrament, or an icon but more about this later).  Such an ecclesiology is a temptation of both progressive and conservative Catholics, who reduce the Church to her organizational structures (whether such structures are democratic or clerical).  Despite the remarkably high ecclesiology of the second Vatican Council (Lumen Gentium, no. 1), a low ecclesiology remains a pressing threat to Catholicism.

What then is a high ecclesiology?  Let us attend for a moment to the feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost to answer this question.  The liturgical prayers of the feast of the Ascension make clear that this solemn day pertains to the beatific destiny of the human person:  God our Father, make us joyful in the ascension of your Son Jesus Christ.  May be follow him into the new creation, for his ascension is our glory and our hope.  Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine.  Though he descended as the Word, he ascended into heaven as the Word made flesh, now bathed in resurrection light.  Our very flesh sits at the right hand of the Father, his wounds of love still marking his body.  Everything that was human in Christ is now in the presence of the Father, without the slightest loss of humanity.  Thus, the Ascension is the marvelous exchange of human nature and divine life, no longer simply within time but in the eternity to which each of us is destined.

And the Church as the body of Christ is the historical sign in which this marvelous exchange takes place, the wedding banquet of the Lamb.  Augustine writes:

“A tremendous mystery.  We have been invited to the wedding, and we ourselves are the wedding.  With ordinary human weddings, the bride is one person, the invited guests are others.  We, as well as being invited, are also ourselves the bride.  We are, after all, the Church, and we have been invited in the Church” (s. 265E.5).

Though Christ has ascended into the “eternal” heavenly places (this means outside of space and time), he remains united to the humanity of the Church as her spouse.  Fundamentally then, the ascension is an ecclesial feast, the true birthday of the Church.  And in the Eucharist, we have a foretaste of our destiny; we taste the divine life given to all of humanity if they desire to receive it.  Lift up your hearts.  We lift them up to the Lord.

What then about Pentecost?  See, the perfection of humanity is never simply individualistic for the Church.  Pentecost is the feast of the Church’s sociality established through the Holy Spirit (see, Henri de Lubac, Catholicism:  Christ and the Common Destiny of Man).

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2:1-4).

Throughout his sermons on the feast of Pentecost, Augustine will often ask why the descent of the Holy Spirit today does not lead persons within the Church to speak in tongues.  For Augustine, such universalization of language in the Pentecost event was a sign that is now fulfilled in the many languages of the Church.  Augustine is not a proto-proponent of diversity.  Rather, the unity of humanity made possible through the gift of the Holy Spirit is the great mystery of Pentecost.  The Church, as the body of Christ, practices a pedagogy of unity in which through “inspired” preaching and the epiclesis of the sacraments, we are gradually formed in Christian love (the soul of the Church), transformed into living signs.  The univocal will of the Father and the Son is to become our will through the Holy Spirit within the Church.  Nationality, gender, class are senseless to the Christian because we share the same will made possible through the Spirit.

Thus, the sequence of Pentecost is a poetic expression of the Church’s function within the Christian life.


Our whole existence is transformed through the Spirit, refreshed and renewed through the soul of the Church.  We learn an authentic way of being human through life within the Church.  This does not mean the journey is complete, either for us or the humanity of the Church (for laity and ordained alike).  Instead, we are still being formed into the perfect praise characteristic of the eternal city of God (a social doctrine):  “there we shall be at leisure and will see, we shall see and will love and we shall love and will praise” (Augustine, City of God, 22.30).

This is what the members of the body of Christ are called to practice if each of them truly believes in the doctrines of the Ascension and Pentecost.  All that leads to disunion has no place within the life of the Church.  And the feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost are intended to refresh our memory of this reality on a yearly basis.  That the first fruits of the Resurrection are found in Christ’s resurrected body, in the very life of the Church.  When we begin the cycle of Ordinary Time, we do not cease to celebrate this reality.  Rather, we live it in the mundane, yet salutary, gift that we call Church Life.


Liturgy and Canon Law: Confirmation

Fr. Mark Gurtner, J.C.L.

Our Lady of Good Hope, Fort Wayne, IN

Judicial Vicar


Question:  What are the conditions under which a priest, rather than a bishop, may normally, and without special permission, confirm an adult Catholic who was baptized as an infant, received Eucharist at 7 years of age, and drifted away from the Church in subsequent years?

The answer to this question is fairly complicated.  So we start with the easiest scenario, that is, when a Catholic does just drift away from the Church.  In this case, no priest may administer the Sacrament of Confirmation without being delegated by the Diocesan Bishop.

Now there are several other scenarios that are variation to this:

1)  In the case of danger of death of a non-confirmed Catholic, any priest may confer the Sacrament of Confirmation.

2) Upon readmission into the full communion of the Catholic Church, a Pastor  confirms validly and licitly one who, having completed seven years of age, was baptized Catholic and had apostatized from the faith (Pontifical Commission for the Interpretation of the Decrees of Vatican II, reply, April 25, 1975, AAS 67 (1975) 348, DOL 2352).  Please note:  “apostatized from the faith” means canonically a total repudiation of Christianity.  In other words, this is someone who has left the Catholic Church and has become non-Christian, not simply someone who has joined another Christian denomination.  Also, in order to be recognized as such, this repudiation must have been done in a formal, public manner.

3)  Upon readmission into the full communion of the Catholic Church, a Pastor confirms validly and licitly one who, having completed seven years of age, was baptized Catholic and who, through no personal fault, was instructed in or adhered to a non-Catholic religion (Pontifical Commission for the Interpretation of the Decrees of Vatican II, reply, December 21, 1979, AAS 72 (1980) 105).

In this case, the “non-Catholic religion” could mean a non-Catholic Christian denomination as well as a non-Christian religion.  No formal, public repudiation is required in this case.  The key words here are “through no personal fault.”

In cases 2 and 3, the pastor administers the Sacrament of Confirmation validly only within his parish territory.

Thus, no priest can validly administer the Sacrament of Confirmation to the following (except in danger of death):

i)  those who were previously baptized Catholic but were instructed in or adhered to a non-Catholic religion by their own fault

ii)  those who were previously baptized Catholic, not raised as Catholic, but never belonged to any other Church

iii)   those who were previously baptized Catholic but never left the Church.

These cases must always be referred to the Diocesan Bishop for Confirmation.

Concerning the confirmation of non-Catholics, canon 883, no. 2, tells us that a Pastor (or other priest who may have the faculty to confirm by virtue of his office) who has baptized one who is no longer an infant (that is, who has reached the age of reason) also validly confirms this person.  In fact, the law instructs us that, unless there is a grave reason to the contrary, the priest who baptizes must confirm this person immediately (canon 866).

In the case of a person who is already baptized Christian but not Catholic who is received into the Catholic Church, the law is the same.  The Pastor in this case must confirm the person immediately after reception into the Catholic Church.


Adjusting Expectations: Ressourcement and the Renewal of the Liturgy

Timothy P. O’Malley, PhD (candidate)

(Acting) Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Co-editor, Oblation

Contact Author

December 31, 1999.  The world awaited the destruction of the universe caused by an infinitesimal gaffe of a previous generation of computer programmers.  Based upon news reports over the course of several months regarding Y2K, one could only expect catastrophic results.  Computers would cease functioning as their internal clocks arrived at the turn of the century.  Last century.  Checking accounts would revert to their value in 1900, which for most people, meant $0.00.  Like science fiction films, humanity would be forced to fend for itself in a now desolate landscape in which small communes stocked food and weapons for an apocalypticism run amok.

Of course, what actually occurred was less remarkable.  The clocks turned to midnight.  The ball descended from its height in Times Square.  New Year’s Eve parties were as mundane and inconspicuous (read boring) as before, except with more Prince than usual.


At times, preparation for the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal reminds me of an English-speaking ecclesial version of Y2K.  November 27, 2011.  Y2K(11.0).  Whether one perceives the translation as a source of liturgical renewal or as an obfuscation of the English language, liturgists throughout this country are busy preparing priests and assemblies for the changes at hand.

But, for a moment, let us imagine that the American Church did nothing to prepare for this missal (for some parishes in this country, this will not be a matter of the imagination but reality).  That November 27th arrived, and in each pew a single card was placed informing the assembly that from now on they would say and with your spirit, instead of and also with you.  That rather than sing Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of power and might, they would sing, Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.  And they would profess consubstantial with the Father, rather than one in being with the Father (recognizing, of course that no one understands either of these phrases without deeper reflection).

Surely, some parishes might murmur against the changes for a couple of weeks, but many would take the whole thing in stride (including the many Spanish speaking parishes that would hardly notice the presence of such cards).  If those gathered on the first Sunday of Advent haven’t left because of the often miserable quality of homilies, music that is frequently less than revelatory of divine glory, and parish committees that are masterful at emulating the bureaucracy of the Department of Motor Vehicles, then this translation isn’t going to push them over the edge.

Indeed, most liturgists know this fact, even if amid the scurry of preparations, they are hesitant to admit it.  That is why many of these preparations for the missal have focused on a comprehensive liturgical catechesis, meant to enrich active participation as a whole.  These preparations are often carried out in an excellent manner by theologically-educated pastoral ministers committed to a deeper liturgical life.

Yet, like Y2K, we should recognize that the introduction of the newly translated missal on November 27, 2011 will be a far more mundane reality than our preparations tend to project.  Three months following the introduction of the translation, English speaking parishes will have near perfect facility in the phrasing of the various prayers.  Priests, who have stumbled over collects, will have gradually acquired the ability to notice those places in the prayer that need a pause or a change in voice, to make sense of the prayer.

So what to do?  Cancel your already planned preparation session and order a large supply of pew cards?  Of course not.  These preparations may be foundational for a new liturgical movement in this country.  But, the American Catholic Church does need to adjust its expectations relative to the effects of the translation in the short term.

Those who are prophets of doom and gloom regarding the translation will need to recognize that decreasing church attendance in the United States will not be exacerbated by the translation.  Rather, the American Catholic Church (particularly in the Northeast and Northwest) may be encountering the early stages of a European-like secularization, which will continue to cause a decrease in church attendance.  The cause of this secularization is not simply the words of the liturgy but a kind of staidness to the Catholicism of the Northeast in particular.  By ceasing to proclaim the Good News, by allowing Catholicism to become a cultural artifact, the vitality of a living tradition has been lost.  I’ve seen the process firsthand.  Young people in the Northeast are entirely unaware of the riches of Catholicism, spend most of their weekends traveling to sporting events rather than darkening the doors of a church, and attend excellent public schools in which “religion” is understood as a kind of naïve hold-over of the non-intellectual.  A new translation will not get at the root of these very real difficulties.

Likewise, those who see in the new translation a bulwark against this secularizing process will need to adjust their own expectations.  Liturgical song and speech may become more sacred.  Chant may be on the up in liturgical circles.  Those attracted to a sense of mystery and poetic beauty may rediscover riches within liturgical prayer that were previously hidden.  But again, as we’ve learned following the second Vatican Council, reforming liturgical prayer is not some universal catalyst toward ecclesial renewal.  Though no sociological data exists on the matter, many Catholics throughout this country are not highly attuned to the sacramental logic of liturgical prayer.  Those who come to the church at Easter and Christmas alone, at weddings and funerals of friends, may stay away not because of the liturgy but simply because they are totally unaware of the beautiful truths proclaimed by the Church regarding the human condition.

The response of the Christian committed to liturgical prayer should not be despair in this regard.  Rather, the present Church will need to return to that theological and spiritual ressourcement, which is necessary for a vital Christian faith in each generation.  The theological work of Henri deLubac, Yves Congar, Louis Bouyer, Edward Schillebeeckx, Karl Rahner, Josef Ratzinger, Louis Bouyer, Hans urs von Balthasar, Jean Danielou, and Marie-Dominique Chenu among others, is the necessary theological foundation for the renewal of liturgical prayer.  In a new weekly series, I hope to begin presenting features of this vision, which I hope may be incorporated into future catechesis on the new missal, as well as that ever present need for faith formation in parishes struggling to hand on the faith in a secular age.  In this way, the new Missal may be fruitfully received as a gift of the ongoing evangelization of the world carried out by the Church.


Of iPhones, Covenants, and Crash Helmets

Kristi Haas

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

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

Contact Author

“If you don’t have an iPhone, well, you don’t have an iPhone.”

The good news: no broken promises.  The slogan is guaranteed to be true.  If A, then A.  The lack of an iPhone entails the lack of an iPhone, and you should not expect it to be true that you have an iPhone if you don’t have an iPhone.  Should we rejoice in a fact that is simply and comprehensibly certain?  Write letters of appreciation for the lesson in basic logic?

More than basic logic, this commercial promotes possession as an end in itself, with a self-evident purpose that does not need articulation.  In our context of consumer capitalism, this slogan treats possession as a ritual.  The mythological explanation of “why” to have an iPhone is left to us; what matters is that iPhone should be had, and we the viewers have the power to have.  When I was a kid, advertisers made false promises, but here is not even a promise that the iPhone will help us be more efficiently distracted from the existential contradiction we experience, or more beloved, or even more normal.  To boot, this “ritual” of possession is unusual among rituals in that it is not meant to create or transform the participants or our society.  It is meant to transform Apple’s bottom line, if anything.

The good news: no broken promises.  The bad news: no promises at all, immediate or eternal.  Just an iPhone.

God says something similar in structure: I am who am (Exodus 3:14).  While the iPhone slogan is true or false depending on the moment and the person, however, the truth of God’s words is not confined to a particular time or space.  There are no “ifs” – the context is the past, the present, and the future, all of salvation history and all of creation.  Having an iPhone transforms our need to print boarding passes, but having God transforms us and calls us into the story of our future.

Scripture gives us many examples of God’s transformative promises.  Abram becomes Abraham when God makes a promise, “cuts a covenant” with him.  God says to Abram:

“My covenant with you is this: you are to become the father of a host of nations.  No longer shall you be called Abram; your name shall be Abraham…. I will maintain my covenant with you and your descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting pact, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.”  God also said to Abraham: “On your part, you and your descendants after you must keep my covenant throughout the ages.”  (Genesis 17:4-5a, 7, 9)

Last February, I had the opportunity to hear Fr. Jan Michael Joncas’ keynote address at the Southwest Liturgical Conference.  I learned that the Israelites made promises by cutting an animal in half.  The parties to the covenant would walk in between the halves of the animal in order to say, “Should I break our agreement, let that be done to me!”  Thus is God’s promise remembered in terms of a ritual:

[God] answered [Abram], “Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old she-goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon.”  He brought him all these, split them in two, and placed each half opposite the other…. When the sun had set and it was dark, there appeared a smoking brazier and a flaming torch, which passed between those pieces.  It was on that occasion that the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I give this land.” (Genesis 15:9-10, 17-18)

Imagine how rituals like that would spice up today’s political campaigns and corporate advertising, even if not carried out with violence.  “These M&Ms will melt in your mouth, and if they melt in your hands, let Mars, Incorporated, be cut in half!”  “I will achieve fair immigration policy in this country, and if not, let my salary and health insurance be cut in half!”  I think I would see my commitments to my family, friends, parish, and human community with a new energy.  Our relationships would be less about instantaneous results and more about love.

Ruth gives us a beautiful example of keeping a covenant.  She could have just gone home, like her mother-in-law Naomi insisted.  She could have signed up for a free trial of life-with-Naomi and evaluated her membership after thirty days.  She could have done a bit more research into this whole “Israelite” thing in order to see what kind of social, economic, marital, and religious benefits were available before taking the plunge, or at least signed up for a rewards program to maximize the return on her barley-harvesting.  She could have satisfied her present discomfort and gained control over her future.

But Ruth said [to Naomi], “Do not ask me to abandon or forsake you!  for wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God.  Wherever you die I will die, and there be buried.  May the LORD do so and so to me, and more besides, if aught but death separates me from you!”  (Ruth 1:16-17)

Ruth’s promise to Naomi springs from love.  She doesn’t bother to act on rational self-interest.  God’s promise to the Israelites springs from love.  These promises transform; God gives the children of one couple a new identity as the People of God.  Ruth becomes part of the lineage of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:5).  Let your future be my future, says Ruth.  God says, wherever your future takes you, my people, I will be there.  I will be your God.

This promise is revealed in its fullness in the suffering, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  At the Last Supper, Jesus

took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.”  And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.” (Luke 22:19-20)

As God in the smoking brazier and flaming torch walked with Abraham through the parts of animals, so God passes through the Body of Christ, broken and shared, in order to make a new covenant with us, to make us into a new people by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Every time we gather for the Lord’s Supper, we pray the Our Father to the God of Abraham and the Father of Jesus, and then we witness the breaking of the Bread of Life.  We see the Lamb of God, not preserved, not distant, but broken into pieces and shared with us and for us.  The new covenant is re-presented before our eyes!

Annie Dillard is on to something in her poetic suggestion: “It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.”  All the power in the universe is before us, and what is more, this power lets itself be broken before us in order for our God to say, let your future, my people, be my future.  I am with you.  Nothing – not circumstances, not the powers of the world, not sin, not even death – averts my love.

As Naomi responded to Ruth and as the People of God responded, so we respond, singing,

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world.  Have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world.  Have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world.  Grant us peace.

But first, immediately before the Body of Christ is broken and shared at Mass, we respond by sharing a sign of peace.  The sign of peace is our promise in response to God’s promise.  It is our part of the covenant.  The sign of peace means: let your future be my future, my sister or brother in Christ.   I am here to be broken and shared for you by the power of the one who is broken and shared for us.  Our future together, our hope in Christ, is more important to me than anything I have, think, feel, or want right now, even my life.  The way Fr. Joncas said it: I will lay down my life for you, even if you steal my purse, talk about me behind my back, belong to the other party, or have loud children.  I will lay down my life for you, even if I have never met you.

May we accept the grace to mean it when we make this peace through Christ at Mass, and may we go in this peace, glorifying the Lord by our life together.  When we have to choose, may we in joyful hope toss aside our iPhones, good only for the here and now, put on our crash helmets, and be transformed in love.



Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving, and a Retreat with High School Teens

Sammi Kretz

Apprentice Catechetical Leader, ECHO:  Faith Formation Leadership Program

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Bedford, NH

This Lent, our parish youth minister and I decided to offer a Lenten retreat experience for our high school teens.  Since our parish is located in the center of an affluent community, we thought it would be beneficial for the teens to have a chance to look at Lent as something more than forty days without chocolate.  We wanted them to have an opportunity to look at the world beyond themselves and make a difference for those in need; we wanted to show our students that the heart of the Gospel teaches us that a lively Christian faith requires us to look beyond our own little world to the needs of every person. And so the Lenten season calls us to unite our hearts with the heart of the Gospel.

The retreat was be a twenty-four hour fast from food, while spending time in prayer and service. The nine students signed up to participate in the Fast raised money for a local food pantry and collected clothing for a children’s clothing closet.  They were participating in the act of almsgiving before they even knew what it was – the sharing of their time, talents, and material goods for the aid of the poor.  The teens committed to spend twenty-four hours at the church without food, without cell phones, and with their peers (some of whom they did not know), while learning about what it means to enter into Lent with a spirit of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

The retreat included different types of prayer experiences, community building activities, and service.  Each part of the retreat had a connection to our faith practices and aimed to draw the teens into a deeper awareness of the suffering of Christ, the suffering of the poor, and our responsibility to one another.  The goal for the retreat was to have our time together to be an experience of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that would stretch our hearts and make a difference in our community and in our lives.  All of the reflection, activities, and service we did during the retreat came out of and led us back to these three ways of growing in Christian life during the season of Lent.

We began the retreat with a brief introduction to the purpose of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in the season of Lent, and why it is important for each of us.  As I prepared the brief reflection, I wanted to make sure that I had the teens’ attention. I started by showing them the music video of Matthew West’s song “My Own Little World.”

By listening to this song and watching the video the teens could see that we pass by people everyday who have something difficult they are dealing with, and at the very least, they need us to recognize such people and give them a listening ear.  My goal for this video was to have the teens start thinking about the world around them and to feel compassion for those who are suffering.

Then I talked to the teens about how the Lenten season calls us to become aware of the “bigger picture,” the world around us, in three specific ways – through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  I spent a short amount of time explaining each of these and incorporating what some of their own experiences might be. To summarize some of the main points:

Prayer: When do we spend time in quiet reflection? Do we remember that prayer is not only a time to speak to God, but also a time for God to speak to us?  In our times of silent prayer and listening to God, we can hear God asking us to recognize the needs of those around us. Our prayer leads us to compassion and community.

Fasting is not just something we give up in order to receive praise, nor is it meant to provide us with the opportunity to complain.  Fasting is a physical act and commitment we make with the hope of becoming a better person. Fasting should help us realize that “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:1-4).  It is not the material things in life that bring true happiness and comfort, but in living, growing, hoping, loving, and giving thanks to God that our hearts are nourished. Fasting reminds us that we are not ruled by the things we want; it also reminds us that we are blessed to have even the basic necessities of life that many do not have, such as food, water, and shelter.

Almsgiving:  Our prayer and fasting should call us to a greater awareness of the needs of others; then we must act on that awareness.  We can give alms by sharing not only our money, but our time and talents as well.  By giving to the poor we are saying, “I realize that you are there. You are a child of God and you are important.” From almsgiving comes respect, care for the poor, and friendship that stretches our minds and hearts for love of God’s creation.

I was very impressed by the attention and active participation of the teens during this retreat.  They all brought their own perspectives and experiences to the group, along with open hearts and minds.  It was nice to see the group become a community as they spent time getting to know one another and worked together for a common good.  Many of them also offered suggestions and beamed with excitement as they began to talk about the Fast retreat for next year.  Their young minds and hearts have much to offer our world and community, and as much as this was a learning experience for them, it was also a learning experience for me.

When working with youth, I always try to keep in mind a passage that was meaningful to me as a teen getting excited about my faith.  In remembering the verse I hope to inspire them to become active participants in their faith community as well as remind myself to listen to their suggestions, the hopes, and their dreams.  “Let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)


Editorial Notes: 6/6-6/11/2011

Dear friends,

Happy Ascension and Pentecost season.  As parishes begin to slow down during the summer months at hand, we here at the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy will continue publishing through June and July, taking a brief respite in the month of August.  This week, we will be featuring another article in Fr. Jeremy Driscoll’s series on the Bible and the Liturgy.  As well, we’ll have the second column by Fr. Mark Gurtner, this one on confirmation and canon law.  Finally, from Sammi Kretz, we will be continuing our series on liturgy and pedagogy, focusing on teaching fasting to youth groups.

As you might have imagined by now, the 20 part series on mystagogy will be delayed until next year.  Instead, Tim O’Malley of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy will feature the first of several posts on the Eucharistic hymns of the feast of Corpus Christi in preparation for the June 26th feast in the United States.