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In recent days, after a bit of discernment, we have decided to enable comments on posts (with the permission of the author).  We hoped, without comments, that people might communicate directly with us via email.  We were wrong.  Turns out only university professors still use email.

As with any blog, we hope to cultivate a civil conversation around the posts that we release. That people will asks questions for clarification to the author of the post.  That they’ll respond with new insights or concerns that they have.  And, we promise to continue publishing quality material for pastoral ministers seeking to cultivate a liturgical and sacramental spirituality.  One in which we conform our lives to the Word made flesh.

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The Medicine of Marion: Cultivating Advent Watchfulness in a Culture of Positive Thinking

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Liturgy and Evangelization

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Advent is the season of longing, of hope, of desire that we will come to perceive God face-to-face, no longer dimly through a mirror (cf. 1 Cor. 13:12).  Yet, how often in the modern world do we long for God, yearn to make our dwelling in the courts of God?  For religion, particularly in the burgeoning mega-church landscape of the United States, is not often a matter of longing, of desire for an even-more intimate communion with God and one another.  Rather, it is a kind of philosophical school of happiness.  That if we live a virtuous life (including a commitment to our family and country, to weekly church attendance, and to becoming the best self that we can be), then we’ll know true happiness.  And the measure of this happiness is a matter of success in business, in inter-personal relationships, and the spiritual life.  To quote Joel Osteen’s book Become a Better You:  7 Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day:

I’ve discovered that God likes to outdo Himself.  He wants to show His favor in your life in greater ways than He did yesterday.  He wants you to be more blessed tomorrow than you are today.  He intends for you to have a greater impact on the world than you have had.  That means if you’re a teacher, you haven’t taught your best lesson yet.  If you’re a builder, you haven’t built your best home yet.  If you’re a businessperson, you haven’t negotiated your best deal yet.  It’s time to get your hopes up; enlarge your vision, and get ready for the new things that God has on the horizon.  Your best days are not behind you.  They’re in front of you.  But if this is going to happen, we have to keep pressing forward, stretching ourselves.  Get rid of low expectations.  Don’t make little plans for your life.  Don’t have little dreams.  Don’t go around thinking, Everybody gets good breaks except for me.  I’ve reached my limits.  I’ll probably never get this promotion.  I don’t know why I’m not as talented as that other person.  No, get rid of that defeated mind-set.  You are a child of the Most High God…He planted seeds of greatness in you (4-5).

There is a sort of truth to what Osteen says.  Indeed, the human person has been made for more than our present situation suggests.  But, this more, this magis is not simply a matter of greater success in business, in love, in family life.  For is there not more to human desire than what we can presently think of?  Imagine we succeed in all aspects of life; that our relationships flourish, our businesses prosper, we go to the college of our dreams, our friends adore us, our team wins the national championship (I’m looking at you, Notre Dame!).  Is there not yet more to be sought?  And for Christians, is not this dissatisfaction with the present condition in fact the very way that God woos us toward a vision of what is possible with God.  That the problem with the power of positive thinking is that God may want us to encounter that which is not positive.  To discover a longing that no transient matter, no earthly success can fulfill.  In fact, the desire of the human heart for more is God’s own desire for us, coming to reach out to us, and transfigure our imaginations so that one day we may enjoy the fullness of this vision.  But not yet.

This, in some sense, is what the first weeks of the season of Advent is about.  Coming to taste, no matter how bitter it may be upon our present palate, the-divine-not-yet-but-soon.  And for those within the bounds of Christian faith, it is in the liturgy that such Advent watchfulness is best taught.  This is a point made well by the Catholic philosopher and theologian Jean-Luc Marion in his The Crossing of the Visible.  For indeed, as Marion argues, liturgy fills our senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. And through this performance, we encounter Christ:  “Christ speaks in the readings, makes himself seen, touched, eaten, and breathed in his eucharistic body” (64).  But, we are constantly in danger of assuming an idolatrous gaze within the liturgy.  We make the encounter about our own ideology, our own mission, our own ideas.  And if we do so in the liturgy, then we’ll do so in life, in how we gaze upon the created order.  We’ll fail to develop a proper sense of perspective:

Perspective should therefore be first understood not as a historically situated pictorial theory…but as a fundamental role of the gaze, without which we would never see a world.  Our gaze reaches a world–exercises its being-in-the-world–because perspective, in the sense of an invisible organizing the visible, has in itself the ability to see through the visible, therefore in terms of the invisible (4).

Yet, a iconic approach to liturgical celebration forms us in the proper way of perceiving all of reality.  Quoting again, Marion:

It may be only the liturgy summons us to such a decision:  it provokes the last judgment of every gaze, which must, before it and it alone, either continue still to desire to see an idol or agree to pray.  Prayer signifies here:  letting the other (of the) gaze see me [laisser l’autre (du) regard me voir].  The liturgy alone impoverishes the image enough to wrest it from every spectacle, so that in this way might appear the splendor that the eyes can neither hope for nor bear, but a splendor that love–shed abroad in our hearts [Romans 5:5] makes it possible to endure.

As a philosopher, Marion can be obscure, so an example may assist.  Last Sunday, the Catholic Church in the United States formally instituted a new translation of the Roman Missal.  Since it was also the first Sunday of Advent, many priests prayed (in the person of Christ and the Church–in personal Christi et ecclesiae) the following Eucharistic preface:  

“It is truly right and just, our duty and salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord.  For he assumed at his first coming the lowliness of human flesh, and so fulfilled the design you formed long ago, and opened for us the way to eternal salvation, that, when he comes again in glory and majesty and all is at last made manifest, we who watch for that day may inherit the great promise in which now we dare to hope. 

One idolatrous gaze, during this prayer, may have thought how miserable it was that the powers that be took away the old way of praying or did not approve the 1998 sacramentary.  Another gaze, also one of idolatry, would have rejoiced in the proclamation of this prayer, secretly delighting that the liberals did not like it.  Both of these gazes presume that Christ is fully present on their side, that he is to be expressed in their ideas, in their philosophies of translation.  It is the iconic gaze alone, which passes beyond the proclamation of the text, to assume a posture of watchful expectation for Christ’s own coming.  That the prayer becomes our own.  That we actually pray that Christ will come.  And that as Marion notes in his God Without Being, this is ultimately what Eucharistic contemplation is:

summoned to distance by the eucharistic present, the one who prays undertakes to let his gaze be converted in it–thus, in addition, to modify his thought in it.  In prayer, only an “explanation” becomes possible, in other words, a struggle between human impotence to receive and the insistent humility of God to fulfil.  And without defeat in this combat, thought will never carry the least speculative victory… (God Without Being, 182).

It is the total gift of ourselves to the God who comes to us sacramentally, who desires not our happiness in transient things, but a transformation of what we imagine happiness to be in the first place.  A transformation of our sense of perspective.  That we might learn to love unto the end, to wait for Christ’s coming around every corner. By cultivating this watchfulness in the liturgy, so learn to expect Christ’s interruption of our lives both in joys and sorrows.  And this coming shatters every ideology of happiness that we place between us and God.

Thus, it seems that the power of positive thinking, is ultimately an idol that blocks Christ’s coming into our lives.  And that’s what an idol is.  It cuts off our gaze before we adequately attend to the advent that the icon seeks to effect.  And thus, the medicine for idolatry is nothing less than a renewed desire, a waiting, a Marian posture.  It is the desire to call out for the God who is still coming:  “Give us peace, Lord God, for you have given us all else; give us the peace that is repose, the peace of the Sabbath, and the peace that knows no evening.  This whole order of exceedingly good things, intensely beautiful as it is, will pass away when it has served its purpose:  these things too will have their morning and evening” (Augustine, The Confessions, XIII.35.50; Boulding, 379).  So this Advent, reject the power of positive thinking.  And instead, cultivate the iconic gaze.  Seek the advent that upsets our limited notions of happiness, our limited sense of justice, our limited hope in what could be if God was allowed to come.  For, truly God does desire our happiness.  But, it’s our positive thinking that ironically may be the obstacle to a fruitful, iconic Advent.




Divine Light in the Darkness: Hope for the One That Is to Come

Rebecca Guhin

3rd year M.Div. student, University of Notre Dame

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Isaiah 35:1-6,10, Psalm 146:6-7,8-9,9-10, Matthew 11:2-11

Last year, on a Thursday evening, I stood outside the doors of the Basilica for a Mass to honor Notre Dame’s own Declan Sullivan, who died in a tragic accident on campus not far from where we stood that night.  Hundreds of students, faculty, and staff, most of whom were strangers to Declan, came together as a community to the Eucharistic Table, to give thanks for his life and to honor the person that he was.  By the time I arrived, there were a thousand people in the church, and hundreds more standing outside in the forty degree weather.  Strangely unwilling to return to the warmth of their own homes, or to view it from LaFortune, we were drawn instead to the comfort of this Eucharistic community, even outside in the cold.

There we stood in a time of darkness.  A member of the Notre Dame family had died in a tragic way at a tragically young age.  Like that of countless innocent people around the world, Declan’s death was sudden, unexplainable, and inexcusable.  We stood there together in mourning.

And here we are, a year later.  We remain shocked and troubled, full of questions and still at a loss for words.  In Psalm 146, we proclaim together, “Lord, come and save us!”  We mean it.  We long to be saved from the tragedy that surrounds us, saved from the broken world.  As Christians, we look to our Lord, our only hope, and we bring him our sadness and our confusion.  We long for the comfort and the strength of our Savior.

Speaking to the suffering of his time and today, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed that the Lord will save us from our  “sorrow and mourning.”  He says we can “Be strong,” and “fear not!” because the Lord is coming to save us.  We tasted that hope year at the Basilica Mass for Declan, where over a thousand people received the Body of Christ, the Living God, present with us then in our sorrow, and present with us today, at this table, and in this sorrow.  The Eucharist reminds us to hope in the Living God and His ability to save us from this world.  The liturgy that night did not bring Declan back and our mourning did not disappear; rather, we were reminded that we are on the way to something bigger, something we can only begin to see today.

In hope, Isaiah proclaims that at the end, “[t]hose whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy.”  In the darkness of grief and mourning, in the darkness of a world that is broken, the prophets call us to patiently wait and hope for the coming of Christ.  As we wait, we can look around and see the little ways in which Christ shows us His love, the ways that we live in the Light, pointing us forward to something that is beginning to dawn.

In Matthew’s gospel, John the Baptist’s disciples ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”  Jesus responds by encouraging them to look around.  They see the blind regaining their sight, the lame walking, lepers cleansed,  the deaf hearing, the dead raised, and the poor listening to the good news… the world is changing.  There is goodness, there is hope.  Even in the mess, even in the darkness, there is light.  Jesus calls John’s disciples to recognize this light in the world around them, and to see that Jesus was and is the “one that is to come.”

The present world can provide us glimpses, moments of hope, hints of the future coming of Christ.  Like John the Baptist, who witnessed to the coming of one greater than he, we witness to the Living Christ by living lives of hope.  John came to “prepare [the] way” for Jesus.  He didn’t even know who he was waiting for—he didn’t know if Jesus was “the one that was to come.”  He hoped in what he did not know.  This man on the margins attracted disciples by witnessing to a hope that was beyond anything the world had known.  John, who did not “dress in fine clothing,” or live in a “royal palac[e],” witnessed to a hope in something greater than this life, something bigger than all that we go through each day, all our disappointments, our sufferings, and our seemingly unmet longings.  He witnessed to a hope in the kingdom that is not yet, and he did so in the humblest of ways—in his daily life.

Like John’s disciples, we too long for the Living God, “the one that is to come.”  This God who will save us is present here, in many ways, in our messy, broken world.  We wait in hope for His future coming, and we glimpse Him in the here and now in small ways that point us to something bigger.

That night outside the Basilica, I encountered our Living God in the warmth of the Eucharistic community, in the darkness of night outside a breathtaking church, in the choir’s beautiful rendition of “You Are Mine”, in Fr. Doyle’s ability to both honor Declan and serve the congregation in his homily, and in the love so present in our mourning community.


The God who will be made fully present, “crowned [at the end] with everlasting joy,” is also the God here with us now, in our work, in our play, in our prayer.  The God we long to save us is right here with us, “where two or three are gathered,” and he will be profoundly present in our Eucharistic celebration.  We glimpse Him here and now, but we know that any encounter with God on earth is nothing compared to what is to come.

This is not a God who remains absent in times of sorrow.  We are not alone.  We worship a Living God, a God real and present to me when I stood outside the Basilica in the cold, surrounded by hundreds of people.  In the darkness of tragedy, in our tired daily lives, in our brokenness, and in our longing, we glimpse His light.

The light I encountered there, standing outside a church, was not of this world.  Knowing a twenty year old student had died, knowing that we can never know on earth why these things happen– I found myself wrapped in the light of a Living God.  It wasn’t physical light I could see in the darkness, but rather something I experienced in listening to messages of hope in the Liturgy of the Word, in the homily, and at the Eucharistic table.  It was a light I experienced standing close to my roommate to stay warm, surrounded by hundreds in some communion I could not fully describe.

That night outside the Basilica, I glimpsed the light of Christ.  I glimpsed the light that in the darkness of pain and sorrow, we cannot always see, but we know to be present and active in our lives.  Gathered once again in a community of believers, today we continue to hope in the Living God, the one that is to come, for the day when the darkness will turn into light.


Parable of the Talents

Mary Ann Wilson

M.Div. Student, 2nd Year

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This summer in Uganda, I literally had the desire and the temptation to bury my money in the ground.  This happened in the capital city of Kampala, when Ben (my husband) and I went to exchange our US dollars for Ugandan shillings.  With the exchange rate of 2,500 shilling to one dollar, I was shocked to find that the $50 I handed the clerk were returned to me as 125,000 shillings.  Seeing the six-digit number on my receipt and receiving the tall stack of bills, I panicked and immediately, subconsciously even began envisioning myself back at our hostel, burying the shillings in the ground.  Now, I know that one of our goals as Christians is to conform our lives to the narrative of Scripture such that we see the Gospel playing out in the events of our lives.  In this event, however, I was less than edified to see myself behaving like the third servant, the one whose solemn fate is described in the harsh ending of the parable.

Now in looking back on my experience at the currency-exchange counter, I realize that there were legitimate, maybe even good reasons why I responded this way.  I was overwhelmed by the huge, unfamiliar number.  I also became aware of the economic reality that was just as true before the exchange took place — that the modest amount I had by US standards was enormous in a country where many people live on just $2 a day.  And I think this made me somehow aware of the demands that came with the much I had received, and the large responsibility I had.  And in light of all this, naturally I think, I was afraid, and simply wanted to be rid of this new weight.

The third servant of our Gospel seemed to have a similar experience.  This servant too was overwhelmed by the huge amount of money — one talent was enough to provide financially for a whole family for over eight years.  This servant also gained insight into his master’s reality, which he acknowledges in his defense: I knew you were demanding, harvesting where you do not plant and gathering where you did not sow.  And taking this on, the servant undoubtedly became aware of his large responsibility, and he too, quite understandably, was afraid.

Now friends, imagining this story, I’m sure the third servant would not have relished his reaction any more than I relished mine in Uganda; there’s something unfortunate, even embarrassing about receiving a gift or responsibility in this overwhelmed, manner.  Yet when we pay attention to what we are doing, such a response seems inevitable, even healthy.  What response makes sense when we go to pray with someone who is dying, and we are asked to name God’s gift of life as their life on earth draws to a close?  What about when we see how many of God’s children live in perpetual struggle?  When we approach the Eucharist, and receive the crucified One into our hard-working but unpierced hands, how should we respond?   There is something deeply good about our reaction to gingerly hold this in our hands and acknowledge that this work is huge and demanding, and we are incapable of attending to these alone.

Through God’s goodness, we are invited to participate in a work that is beyond us, and that justly and necessarily brings us fear.  This is a fear that can jolt us out of our comfort zones, our pint-size expectations for God and ourselves, and can show us more deeply the way of God’s love.  The holy fear mentioned in today’s psalm — “Blessed are those who fear the Lord,” — stands opposite to the fear of paralysis, which leads to the third servant not only wanting to bury the talent, but actually doing it, and leaving it there for the duration of the master’s journey.  It is the difference between the way of conversion, holiness, life, and the way of stagnation,  passivity, and death.


So friends, what is the difference?  How do we embrace reverent fear and yet reject the fear that paralyzes us?  When we look at the third servant, we see that he is right to perceive the Master as demanding: when they settle accounts, the Master verifies that he does indeed harvest and gather where he did not scatter or plant.  While the servant’s view of the master is accurate, it is also incomplete.  The servant lacks insight as to why his Master has asked much of him, why he is demanding.  When the servant looks at the enormous tasks themselves – when we look at the despairing person to be consoled, the many hungry to be fed, the difficult person to love – we can be paralyzed by the work that is difficult and big.  But when any of us as servants step back to see how and why the Master entrusted us with anything in the first place, we can see that everything is put in motion, sustained, and guided by God’s love for us, and his deep desire to welcome us into his joy.

The third servant did not see this, and in the thick of our frustrations and struggles, it is hard for us to see it as well.  But in this story, the talents were not given just so they could be multiplied for the master’s sake.  Strictly speaking, our Master does not need anything – his are all the earth, and all creation, and no increase, sharing, or doubling of what He has can add anything to His greatness, His perfection.  When the Master receives the doubled talents, he says nothing of the increased funds.  Rather, he praises his servants and then irrupts into invitation, “well done, good and faithful servant.  Come, share your master’s joy.” In the affection of his words, we hear the master’s deep gladness not as his profit, but at his servants and their fidelity.  In this, we can hear the why of God’s love coming through, as if he is revealing what this was really all about, saying: “yes, my servant.  You have completed the task, given to you so you, so all can be here – so you can enter my delight.”

Our Master’s heart overflows to share Himself with us, to touch our hearts which were created to hear and receive His words: “come, share your master’s joy.”  And for those of us who know ourselves to be incapable and small in light of the great charge God has given us, this joy is the game-changer in our choice between fears.  The third servant knew that the master was demanding.  What he did not know was that the master was demanding for the servant’s sake, because the essence of everything the Master did was for the sake of bringing that servant unto himself.  This immensity of God’s self-giving love is what we are called together as Church to proclaim, and what we feast on together, even when we frequently forget this agapic grounding of our reality.  And yet this is why the Holy Spirit gathers us, to feast and receive the fullness of God’s love in Christ, who for our sake was crucified under Pontius Pilot, whose blood was shed and for us and for all, so that sins may be forgiven.

As we do all things in remembrance of Christ – our prayer, work, joys, and sufferings – let us receive the consolation of his love, made present to us in the Eucharist: He has done and will continue doing all things in our lives to fill us with the Spirit and bring us to share in our Father’s joy.


The Household of Divinity: Mary and the Season of Advent

On November 30, 2011 at 7:00 PM in Geddes Hall Chapel, the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy will host its first annual Advent Prayer, Mini-Lecture, and Reception.  The mini-lecture is entitled “The Household of Divinity:  Mary and the Season of Advent” and will be given by Timothy O’Malley, director of the Center for Liturgy.  This event is made possible through a grant from the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship, and the lecture is the fruit of research funded by the grant.  Families are welcome to attend. 

The lecture will appear early next week in Oblation.


Educating the Liturgical Imagination–“Come and See: An Agreeably Unsatisfactory Answer”

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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Are you saved?  How far is too far?  Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart?  In catechetical ministry, there are days when I wish I could avoid answering a question with the same remarkable success as Jesus had.

In several recent Sunday Gospels, Jesus eludes the Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ traps by answering, in effect, “none of the above” (Mt 22:15-40).  Somehow, avoiding the question also helps Jesus win followers: Andrew and the other disciple ask where Jesus is staying, but he only replies, “Come, and you will see.”  “Follow me,” he says to Philip from Bethsaida, whose longing he has “found” before Philip says a word (Jn 1:35-43).  Jesus does not ignore their questions, but neither does he spell out the kind of answer they can scribble on their hands before the test.

Merely three verses later, Philip the Apostle catches on, adopting Jesus’ own technique:  “Come and see,” he replies to Nathanael’s query as to whether anything good comes from Nazareth(Jn 1:46).

Perhaps St. Philip was by my side, then, when a seventh-grade boy, “Josué,” recently asked me what would happen to him during the Rite of Acceptance.  It is a celebration of your desire to follow Christ, I explained, and the Church will accept and bless you.  I will tell you some things, like what the priest will ask you, I continued, recalling the advice of my mentor, but mostly, you just have to experience it when you’re there.

That was not quite what he wanted to know!  The formal preparation for the Rite balances the need to prepare children at a practical level with the fact that that none of us knows what graces the Rite will bring.  As for the practical preparation for the Rite of Acceptance, Rita Burns Senseman suggests reflecting on John 1:35-42 (A Child’s Journey: The Christian Initiation of Children, St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1998; see also the RCIA, 62).  This gave Josué, his sponsor, and his family a chance to consider the first question contained in the Rite:  “What do you ask of God’s Church?” or, for children, “What do you want to become?” (50, 264).

Indeed, before Jesus invites the disciples to “come and see,” he asks them what it is they want (Jn 1:38).  The disciples, still awaiting the fullness of revelation, know only that they want, and that John the Baptist has told them to behold the Lamb of God.  They stammer, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”  Thankfully, preparation for the Rite empowered Josué’s to answer according to the desire of his heart, and to avoid appearing like a Jeopardy contestant or a disciple meeting the Lord for the first time.

As for leaving room for God to work through the Rite, we spent some time on the meaning of a central symbol in the Rite, the cross.  (This, too, is Rita Burns Senseman’s suggestion.)  What does the cross mean to you?  Where do you see or experience the cross in your life?  Thankfully, Josué’s sponsor was brilliant.  He spoke of the need to choose every day to take up our cross and follow Jesus instead of following the voices of the world and our own interests.  He spoke of the way in which our suffering brings us very near to Christ, who also rises.  I added that when we follow him, we are in good company, and that the Holy Spirit blesses us with joy and peace along the way.

During the day of the Rite, our pastor led the celebration of the Rite in English for most of the adults and children and in Spanish for this boy, whose family’s first language is Spanish.  Mystagogy ensued when afterward, the mother asked if I would give the family a ride home.

How do you feel, Josué?  What do you remember about what happened?  He had been nervous at first, he said, but later felt a sense of peace about being in front of so many people.  He felt very welcomed by the congregation, who pledged to support him along the journey.  He felt holy when the priest anointed him.  He wanted to know why he was asked to kiss the Bible he was given.  Thus began the period of the catechumenate.

Normally, the beginning of the catechumenate indicates the beginning of “Breaking Open the Word” sessions.  The problem is that there is no catechumen at our parish close in age to Josué, with whom to conduct such sessions!  The family and I agreed that he would come thirty minutes early to the catechism class (CCE) he attends, in order to reflect on the Scripture.  The first week was a more thorough mystagogy on the Rite, but beginning with the second week, a weekly, half-hour “junior high Bible study” materialized, including Josué, the children of our junior-high-level catechists, any and every unsuspecting junior high youth who waltzes through the front door and (not quite) past our circle of folding chairs, and me.

Aside from providing a setting in which to Break Open the Word, the RCIA has shaped this new gathering more deeply.  Of course, we would soon begin using the Sunday readings in order to put the youth in communion and intimacy with Jesus Christ (John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae 5).  But our group did not immediately take up those Scriptures for the same reason that the RCIA process does not begin with the catechumenate.  The youth, I imagine, could not help but ponder, “Can anything good come from pre-CCE CCE?”  Developmentally, 11-14-year-olds are rather busy working out their identities, especially in relation to peers.  Being evangelized anew plants seeds of desire for Christ in that ever-forming identity.  Our first Scripture study, therefore, was the call of the first disciples.

Even within each session, though, catechesis is not the first action.  Saint John Bosco, the founder of the Salesians, walked tightropes, juggled, did magic tricks, and told jokes, so gaining the youths’ affection and attention.  Since my tightrope is currently working full-time in eco-friendly laundry desiccation, we began instead with an abundance of icebreakers.  The youth were attentive and respectful, but the most beautiful part was their energy, which made it easy for others to join in as they arrived for CCE.  In fact, these youth unknowingly played the role of Philip, calling their peers to “come and see.”

The first week, as I asked for volunteers to play Jesus and John the Baptist in John 1:35-48, Josué’s hand leapt into the air.  He played Jesus, and as I read the Gospel line by line, each of the youth took on a character in the scene.  We discussed the relevance of the Gospel for another few minutes before they were due in their CCE classrooms.

The Rite of Acceptance also made a ripple in my post-Confirmation ministry.  “Receive the sign of the cross on your ears,” the Rite says, “that you may hear the voice of the Lord” (56).  The eyes, lips, heart, shoulders, hands, and feet are signed with the cross as well.  For the high school youth, drawing the cross on others’ eyes, ears, hands, and feet was probably uncomfortable.

Still, it served as a reminder that they, bodies included, belong to Christ who has made them his own in Baptism.   This is in stark contrast to other voices that say that our bodies belong to us and that we have the right to both use them as we wish and decide what they mean.  Josué had been uncomfortable during this part of the Rite, too, but after reflecting, he told me the story of a time he had used his hands to follow Christ.  He had helped a person with a disability pick something up of hers that had fallen at the grocery store.

The Rite of Acceptance invites all who are present to accept the new catechumens, and we do so in the imitation of Christ who first accepts and desires us.  We continue to sort out what we desire from Him, of Him; part of us wants to know where he is living and where he is going before we follow.  But we, like the new catechumens, are invited to come and see.

To pass on the same invitation in our sacramental preparation, evangelization, and communal prayer, is to recognize that the words of eternal life do not come simply from memorizing the history of Jesus Christ, from our own rational deductions, or from our subjective experiences of liturgy.  All my answers are unsatisfactory; I do not know what graces the God of the Universe wants to infuse into our hearts or where his Spirit will take Josué, his family, the junior high students, or the seniors who are about to graduate and move away from home.  Still, I know that he has remembered his promise to our ancestors and to us.  My answers might only be acceptable when they point to Christ himself who is the satisfactory answer: “Come, follow him, and you will see,” and he will raise those who know him on the last day.


Editorial Updates: Oblation Holiday from 11/23-27

Friends, we’ll be publishing very little over the Thanksgiving holiday.  Your editor has a presentation coming up, in addition to syllabi for next semester to finish, and a couple of other looming writing projects.  And he’ll be heading home to Volunteer Country to greet the arrival of the 1st Sunday of Advent.



Also, Go Irish, Beat the Tree! (enjoy the highlights from the last time we beat the Tree).



Five Recommendations for Praying the New Roman Missal

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Liturgy and Evangelization

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A student, in the remaining days before an exam or paper, delves into the material at hand with a voraciousness motivated by fear and a new found commitment to academic excellence.  Often, it is the looming deadline alone that inspires many a student to stay up late at night, pouring over notes, memorizing data, and composing essays in a flurry.

I know that there are many parish priests gazing over the Missal one last time before we reach the 1st Sunday of Advent.  For some, they have attended in detail to the Missal over the last year and a half, preparing for this date with remarkable attention and detail.  For others, often for reasons outside of their control, they are just now beginning to read the prayers of this weekend’s Mass.  You see, whatever your opinion of the translation is, it will be impossible for any priest this weekend to walk into a parish, pick up the text, and commence as if nothing has changed.

During the last several months in particular, I have read these prayers aloud to groups preparing for the Missal.  I have considered the images.  I have learned to love much of the new translation.  And to assist late-comers in final preparations, I have five recommendations for the priest preparing to preside and preach this weekend.

1)  Treat the prayers like poetry

The new prayers of the Missal, particularly the Collect Prayers, are more like poetry than prose.  Read the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins.  If you approach these poems as if reading the transcript of a G-8 Summit or a parish council meeting, you will fail to discover the genius of Hopkins.  His use of inscape, of adjectives upon adjectives that allow the reader to perceive a world “charged with the grandeur of God.”  So too with the prayers of the Missal.  Over the next several days, pray the opening collect aloud to yourself each morning and evening:

Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,

the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ

with righteous deeds at his coming,

so that, gathered at his right hand,

they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.

Rather than rush through the prayer, pause at each clause, with each comma, each time you’re moved by what the prayer says.  Consider the poetry of the prayer.  The way that the English begins in an almost exasperated sense, as we beg God to grant us the capacity to run forth to greet Christ.  Pray over this theme of running, of journeying as you enter into Advent itself.  Imagine what it means to be “worthy to possess the Kingdom,” when at Mass this weekend, we’ll hear from the Prophet Isaiah:

You, LORD, are our father,
our redeemer you are named forever.
Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways,
and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?
Return for the sake of your servants,
the tribes of your heritage.
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
with the mountains quaking before you,
while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for,
such as they had not heard of from of old.
No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you
doing such deeds for those who wait for him.
Would that you might meet us doing right,
that we were mindful of you in our ways!
Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful;
all of us have become like unclean people,
all our good deeds are like polluted rags;
we have all withered like leaves,
and our guilt carries us away like the wind.
There is none who calls upon your name,
who rouses himself to cling to you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have delivered us up to our guilt.
Yet, O LORD, you are our father;
we are the clay and you the potter:
we are all the work of your hands (Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7).

Consider the particular problems in your congregation.  Those who await Christ’s advent in their lives, amid the suffering and gloom of life.  By preparing to pray in this way, you will pray the opening prayer slowly enough to be understood, attentive to the prayer’s structure; and, you’ll sound as if you believe what you pray.  We who pray these prayers with you could ask for little more than this.

2)  Preach on the Images from the Prayers, Not the Missal Itself

The danger during the first Sunday of Advent will be to preach upon the new prayers of the Missal.  Lay people, in no way, shape, or form desire another homily on the Missal. What many of us seek is the peaceful solitude, contemplation, and joyful expectation provided by the season of Advent.  So, let Advent be the crux of your homily.  And the new Missal itself may provide rich imagery to preach upon in conjunction with the Scriptures. In Preface I of the Season of Advent, the Church prays:

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,

always and everywhere to give you thanks,

Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,

through Christ our Lord.

For he assumed at his first coming

the lowliness of human flesh,

and so fulfilled the design you formed long ago,

and opened for us the way to eternal salvation,

that, when he comes again in glory and majesty

and all is at last made manifest,

we who watch for that day

may inherit the great promise

in which now we dare to hope…

Now here are some rich images to preach upon.  That our celebration of Advent is more than a remembrance of the birth of Jesus in some stable or cave long ago.  Rather, Advent is the learning of a posture of expectation, of developing an imagination rich enough (through divine grace) to dare to hope.  A parish that dares to hope seeks to love, even when such actions have no visible effect, such as in the care for the poor, in the protesting of abortion or unjust labor practices, in the tender love shown by a mother to her child (even when such love is rejected as the infant grows into a child, an adolescent, an adult).  And such a parish assumes an eschatological posture, one aware that the kingdom of God is not often visible in success or power or prestige.  But, in failure, lowliness, and disappointment.  And that because Christ himself assumed such a state, we know that the most glorious things are possible in lowliness.  Such imagery, essential to making meaning in life, should be the crux of any sermon.

3)  Make Decisions Now About the Penitential Act and the Dismissal Before Mass

Undoubtedly, as a presider, you make decisions on-the-fly about the various options to use during Mass.  This Sunday, don’t.  It’s like a quarterback learning a new playbook in football.  The neophyte quarterback cannot read the defense, audible on his own, and make sure that he communicates with his receivers.  This weekend you are the neophyte quarterback again, even if you’re a veteran priest.  Make your prayer this weekend easier. Choose one of the three options for the penitential act before Mass.  Likewise, for the dismissal.

4)  Don’t Make a Big Deal About Mistakes

This weekend, there are going to be mistakes.  Some will be your mistakes.  Some will be that of the assembly.  Don’t make a big deal about these mistakes, one way or the other.  For, the fact is, the Eucharistic liturgy isn’t ultimately about words.  It’s about communion with the living God and with one another.  And, the introduction of new texts won’t change this.  The assembly will still process up the aisle during the communion rite, they’ll place their hands out to receive the body of Christ, and they’ll become what they receive.  What we need to remember is that sacraments are always more than the signs by which they are communicated.  And the reason we attend Mass is not to hear a lesson, to gain knowledge, but to meet Christ.  This encounter will occur whether or not the assembly replies this week, And with your spirit or you remember to pray, Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall….

5)  Remember That You Have Other Masses to Prepare For

There will be other Masses after November 27th.  Like the 28th, 29th, 30th, etc.  In some way, you’ll have to learn to develop new habits of preparing to pray each day.  Gazing at the collect prayers in the morning and evening.  Practicing the prefaces of the Eucharistic prayer.  Preparing homilies that use the insights of your preparation.  This, I hope, will be a good thing for your priestly ministry.  For, if your own praying of the Eucharistic Prayer has become dull, tired, even mundane, the opportunity to pray new words could renew your appreciation for the Eucharist.  For your role as a priest in this great sacrament of charity. At least, this is my prayer for each of you.


The Advent of Jesus Christ and the Widow of Nain

Rebecca Guhin

M.Div. Candidate, University of Notre Dame

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Good News: Jesus’ saving act, the saving act of God, reaches all of us.

Reflection on Luke 7:11-17

I met the Widow of Nain on Monday.  I was sitting in a circle on the second floor of St. Margaret’s House, couches and chairs pushed together to create a suddenly quite sacred space for spirituality group.  Rosie is a pretty, middle-aged African-American woman with a lovely smile and a voracious appetite for chatting about Jesus.

When she was a young adult, she used to walk Lincolnway, selling herself for crack and alcohol on the West Side of South Bend.  However, in the midst of a binge, she suddenly found herself praying for God’s merciful help.  She soon blacked out again, and awoke at the doors of a church.  She didn’t know how she ended up there, but walked in, sat down in the back, and wept.

Suddenly, a woman in white appeared in front of Rosie.  At first thinking she was hallucinating, Rosie realized this was a female pastor in church robes, asking what was wrong.  Rosie shared her desire to let go of her lifestyle and begin anew.  The pastor responded by offering her food, clothing, and a chance to live in their church balcony, where she stayed for two years until she could get a place of her own.  Today, Rosie walks up and down Lincolnway once again, this time sharing the Gospel with today’s prostitutes and drug addicts on the street.

Two thousand years ago, another woman took a walk.  From within the city, a funeral procession made its way toward the gates of Nain.  The crowd was devastated: they had lost a brother, a friend, … a son.  They watched as a widow grieved her only son, and with her, they wept.  How could this be?  They all felt confused and hopeless.  Losing her only son meant losing the only person left to care for her.  This loving mother was suddenly poor and destitute.

Meanwhile, Jesus and his friends also walked toward the gates of Nain, but this crowd buzzed with excitement at what could possibly happen next.  Already Jesus has missioned the Twelve, preached of blessings on the poor and love of enemies, and healed many people, even a slave.  Their awe of this unusual man, this prophet, left them excited and ready to see more.

At the gates of Nain, despite the activity around him, Jesus notices this grieving, weeping woman.  Instead of just continuing their walk, “he was moved with pity for her,” and immediately responds with compassion.  Ignoring the crowds and focusing entirely on this poor widow, Jesus looks her in the eye, and says “Do not weep.”

Of course, to the grieving crowd and even to Jesus’ friends, this demand probably sounded crazy.  But more importantly than telling her, he showed her – he showed her she does not have to weep because her God, who has “visited his people,” was standing right beside her, ready to save her as he saved her son.  Jesus knew that this widow was not hopeless—she could have tremendous hope, because Jesus has the power not only to heal but to raise.  We know that just as he raises the young man, Jesus himself will be raised by his Father.

There is so much suffering in the world, so many widows of Nain, and yet God continues to surprise us with his grace and his mercy, with hope in something bigger than this moment.  Just as Jesus gave the son back to his mother, he returns to us, in each moment of suffering, with reason for joy. We can be joyful because he is present to us, as he was present to the widow, to her son, and to the crowds.  After all, it is in these most raw and painful parts of ourselves, when we are most vulnerable, that we are most open to let God in.  It was through the cross that Jesus choose to win over death, and it was through her tears in the back of the church that God entered into Rosie’s life, somehow transforming her.  God is so clearly present to us in our suffering because it is when we give God the chance to take over, it is in our crosses, in His cross, that we triumph.

God has come to save, so everyone in the story finds themselves rejoicing.  They see Jesus for who he is, God who “has visited his people,” and their joy and awe overflow into proclamation.  Jesus gave the son to his mother, and she received him as total gift.  The crowd exalted God for the gift of the son—the gift of the widow’s raised son and the gift of Jesus Himself, the Son of God among them.

Jesus’ saving act, the saving act of God, reaches all of us.  Perhaps right now you can relate to Jesus’ friends, excited about your faith and the Lord’s potential in you.  Perhaps you are more like the widow and her community, grieving.  Or perhaps you feel almost dead inside, deeply in need of a Savior.  We identify with different characters at different times in our lives, and Jesus appears, in so many new ways, and surprises us with the hope that only the Cross and the Resurrection can bring.

Today, seventeen years after Rosie fell prey to drugs and alcohol, she, too, is alive again.  She is on fire with love of God and neighbor, and could not stop glorifying Him with the women of St. Margaret’s House.  She recently bought a storefront on Lincolnway to provide today’s prostitutes a safe oasis from the streets and to help them open up the Word of God in their lives.

Her son hadn’t died, she hadn’t met the Lord Jesus in first century Galilee, but Rosie found herself alive again in Christ.  He came to the widow of Nain in her grief, He met Rosie in her tears in the back of a church, and God is seeking out that place in each of our hearts that is most vulnerable, because it is precisely here that He is waiting to save us.


Called to Grace: Each Called to Give a ‘Fiat’ – Vocation and Disabilities

Michele Chronister

Graduate of Echo 6

Catechist and writer

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I love the story of the Annunciation. I love the fact that God calls this woman, Mary, to be His mother. She is viewed as little or nothing by the world around her, but in His eyes she is precious beyond words. It is the most beautiful example in our faith of how God chooses those who are little and weak in order to accomplish His will in the world.  He calls these very ones to give their “fiat,” their “yes,” to Him.

In my first experience working with people with disabilities, I was working at a summer camp for people with disabilities (primarily adults with mental and physical disabilities). One night, I was sitting with one of the women campers and talking to her about her faith, and she was telling me that she loved Jesus. Then, she told me that her mom had wanted her to be a nun. “Would you like to be a nun?” I asked her.  “Yes, yes!” she said. “I would like to be a nun!”

Later that evening, I talked to the priest who helped run the camp, asking if there was anyone we could direct this woman to. He looked at me sadly and said, “No religious order would ever take her.” I remember being completely shocked at the time, but years later I now understand what he meant – no religious order would take her in because they didn’t have the resources to care for her. But at the time, I didn’t fully understand that, and I remember just thinking, “Well then, where is her place in the Church?” That conversation lit the flame in my heart for both doing as well as promoting ministry for people with disabilities.

I now also know, years later, that there are some religious orders (precious few, but some) that would have welcomed my friend. There are communities such as the Franciscan Missionaries of Jesus Crucified, or, my personal favorite, The Little Sisters Disciples of the Lamb (seeing those young women with Down syndrome in contemplative habit makes me feel ridiculously happy!).  However, there is still a bigger challenge faced by those with disabilities – helping others to view them as someone who has a vocation.

Traditionally, much ministry to people with disabilities has focused solely on the love that God has for them. There are exceptions to this, but this is often the case (much in keeping with some catechetical trends we’ve seen in recent decades, but that’s a discussion for another day). However, catechetical ministry for people with disabilities needs to make the same shift that much of the catechetical world has made – a shift toward emphasizing both the love of Christ for us, as well as the love we owe to God. The most perfect interaction of these two sides of the coin is found in one’s vocation.

A vocation is the particular call lovingly given by God to an individual. It is the way that we ultimately experience God’s love in our lives, as well as the way we ultimately share and return that love. For some, that vocation is religious life or the priesthood. For others, it is married life. For others, it is single life and with that, a commitment to celibacy for the duration of one’s single life. There is also vocation in a slightly smaller sense, that is, discernment of what God is calling one to do on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. In all of this, though, there is a sense that God – giver of all life and love – asks something unique of us. It is important to know that we are loved by God, true…but the ultimate way that we experience the love of God and return that love to God is through our vocation! To deprive someone of this journey of discernment (an ongoing journey, to be sure) is to deprive them of a piece of the message of God’s love. Yes, God loves us, but He also asks something for us. This asking goes hand in hand with the loving – God asks because He loves us and wants to give us the opportunity to love Him and be a part of His great plan for the world.

In doing ministry for individuals with disabilities, it is crucial that we draw them into the process of discernment, and into this awareness that they are called by God in a unique way. There is a vast spectrum of how this discernment will look. For a highly functioning individual with a mild disability, the process of discernment may look very similar to the process of discernment for a person without a disability. Such an individual may easily discern whether or not he or she is called to married life, priesthood, religious life, or single life. However, this may not be so simple for someone with a moderate or severe disability.

The first step, though, is to be open to listening to the call that God is giving. Rather than ask, “Is that possible?” it is important to ask, “Is this what God is truly asking?” This is the question that leads to beautiful things like a religious order for women with Down syndrome (see link above). This is not to say that this will be possible for every person – even in the case of people without disabilities, not every person who applies to a religious order is accepted and not every person who wants to marry in the Church meets the requirements of a valid marriage. That aside, if God plants a desire in someone’s heart, if He is calling someone in a particular way, then He most certainly has a plan in mind for that individual. Being open to this is the first step in helping someone discern God’s will for his or her life.

It is also important to make the individual aware of the need to pray about this. For many people with disabilities, the vocation God has in store for them may be something smaller and simpler (as is the case for many people), but no matter what it is it is important to recognize that they are called to serve God by what they do. Someone in a a workshop setting or attending a day program at a facility for people with severe disabilities, for example, is still called to glorify and love God by dedicating all that they do to Him. Each of us is called to play our part in the Body of Christ, and, as St. Paul so aptly points out – we desperately need each part of the body to play its part! There is a value, perhaps a value we cannot always see but a real value nonetheless, to offering up all that we do each day to God.

When sin came in to the world, the world became a place of decay, and death. With the Incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ, that process was mercifully reversed. But God calls each of us to partake in the sanctification of the world in a unique way. For some, it is through a call to religious life, for some through a call to parenthood, for some through a call to a holy single life, and for some a call to bringing a sense of joy and peace and a profound love of God into a physical therapy session or a workshop setting or a day program or a special education classroom. Don’t you see? Those with disabilities can bring God’s love and light into corners of the world that many of us cannot! We desperately need them to be busy living out their vocations because it is through those vocations – even the seemingly simple ones – that God works through them to continue the work of His redemption, so that the Gospel may be preached to all the ends of the earth…even and especially the least likely corners of the world!

This is why it is so important to include an awareness of vocation and God’s call in our catechetical ministry for people with disabilities. God is calling each of them, as He calls each of us, in a unique way. We are called to help these individuals discern how they are being called to offer their “fiat” – that simple and profound, “yes” – to God.