The End of the Conservative/Liberal Divide?

Church Life, Winter 2012 issue contributor Elizabeth Scalia (a.k.a. “The Anchoress” provides a brilliant and “evangelical” (in the Catholic sense) analysis of Obama’s recent decision regarding the conscience clause.  A brief excerpt to whet the appetite.

Just as importantly, the laity—divided for decades on issues ranging from felt-banners to dress to dogma—has found a line in the sand upon which they can come together; “conservative” Catholics are reassured to see their more “progressive” brethren defending the church’s right to be who and what she is; more “progressive” Catholics may be coming to realize that—as relentlessly single-minded as some of their opponents could be—had they not held the line all these years, much could be crumbling at this moment.

Now is the time for all good Catholics to come to the aid of providers—the schools, hospitals, charities, and soup kitchens who serve communities in need without asking affiliations. And, in coming together, perhaps now is the time to ponder their long-held presumptions, each about the other, and broaden our own outreach as well.

Read more by clicking on the link above.

 

 

Happy Happy Friday: Sweet Mother of Abraham Lincoln, It’s Friday

Laura McCarty

Notre Dame Alumna, Class of 2011

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Editor’s note:  This is the first of a weekly Friday column by Laura McCarty, a Notre Dame alumna, presently living in Knoxville, TN.  Laura sends out this email each Friday to friends–and we wanted to share it with readers of Oblation.  Laura invites readers to use parts of her writing for retreats or parish catechesis, but she first asks that you contact her for permission.  

PRELUDIO: Feeling down and uninspired? Bummed that February doesn’t have any really cool holidays? Wishing that wind pants and oversize sweaters would come back into style? Staring at your dirty laundry hoping that a spritz of air freshener will get the job done? Well, this can’t fix everything, but at least you can give it a try (thanks to the friend who sent this my way :)):

Grit your teeth and be brave, folks, because this kid BELIEVES in you. HAPPY HAPPY FRIDAY, PEOPLE!!!

HOLA, PEOPLES!!!,

So on the subject of little kids: one of the many beautiful things about being five is that your sixth sense of detecting socially awkward moments isn’t really…there. So this gem of a child can stand on his cul-de-sac and give the world an inspirational speech like he was speaking on the National Mall. If he were fourteen, he might still give the speech but he’d

be wearing a ski mask to disguise his identity from the general public.

Maybe it seems like I’m hard on teenagers here. But really, it’s tough to be one. I agree.

Anyhoo, since we’re doling out awards for learning how to ride a bike, here’s some other ideas for accomplishing awesomeness in daily life:

A)     The Award for Killing the Three-Inch Flying Insect in the Living Room

B)      The Award for Unclogging the Bathroom Drain (yes, I just went there: I apologize if you just ate breakfast).

C)      The Award for Shooting Under a Yellow Traffic Light in the Millisecond Before It Turns Red (SCORE).

D)     The Award for Hand-Washing Your Kid’s Stuffed Animal (The One That Hasn’t Been Washed in Years and Is No Longer Discernible As Any Particular Animal. Hippo? Lion? Piranha? We Just Don’t Know)

E)      The Award for Working in a Pre-K and Not Hand-Sanitizing Every Toy Twice a Day (Even Though It’s Not a Bad Idea)

F)      The Award for Removing the Half-Eaten Small-Animal Offering That Your Cat Left for You

G)     The Award for Being a Podiatrist (The Few. The Brave. The Foot Doctors).

These all deserve their own motivational speeches, but then you would be here reading this until tomorrow, and you have lives to get on with, so let’s keep moving along 😉

 

THE HEART OF THE EMAIL: Storms and Breezes

YouTube clip of the week:

Picture this: you’re on a sailboat traveling across a great lake, and the shore is so far away that it’s out of sight, at least for now. You’ve heard from other sailors that sometimes storms strike down in these waters, so you’re watching your radar and satellite so intently that you don’t notice the small breezes tugging at your sail. Slowly but surely, the combined breezes silently do what a storm would do: steer you off-course. But their effect is subtle enough to go unnoticed, and while you would throw all of your strength against a storm, it’s easy to discount the breezes that slowly and surely tug you away from your destination.

We save up our defiance and our courage for the storms that are sure to happen as we go through life, but what about the courage for fighting the breezes? The constant need for our vigilance tires us out, and it falls by the wayside when the danger is disguised in a small but constant presence.

When the storms of our life strike down, we cry out to God to assist us in the battle and imagine ourselves declaring our love for God even in the worst storms. But in a way, the storms are better than the breezes: we feel like consulting God on whether we should speak up in a conversation or not seems below Him, as if He only had time or desire to help us with the big things.

But we have to ask for His help to keep us watchful against evil’s minute but steady attacks. It doesn’t smash our defenses: it slips in, by postponing the good we could have done, by letting the harmful conversation stream by us uninterrupted, by remaining silent when we ought to speak. But we must be watchful, lest we stray so gradually that we don’t notice it immediately. As Mother Teresa said, “Be faithful in small things, for in them our strength lies.” Is good demanded of you now? Then do it and don’t waste time. We have no time to waste time. The breezes weigh us down by their constancy: with God as our compass, is it not good to consult Him often and take care not to swerve from the course He has set for us?

A friend of mine shared this beautiful quote from Saint John of the Cross: “Remember always that you came here for no other reason than to be a saint; thus let nothing reign in your soul which does not lead you to sanctity.” It doesn’t leave room for ambiguity: if we are only half-committed now, we cannot stay that way. The choice is made every day: the storms are infrequent but the small breezes to tug us away from God are always present. We must be faithful in small things or we will have no strength or determination to endure the storms when they come. No day or hour or minute of our lives is unimportant: this isn’t so that we become obsessive so much as we become awake and watchful. If we fall asleep, we must wake up and resume the path as soon as possible, and sometimes backtracking is necessary to return to the true road.

Keep an eye out for the breezes: check in with God often since His sense of direction is perfect. Pray for endurance for the daily things and not just for the great struggles of life. God doesn’t guarantee us grace for life where we only need to ask Him for it once: instead He tells us to, (as C.S. Lewis said), ask only for ‘the daily grace to meet the daily need.’ The sooner we realize our constant and utter dependence on God, the sooner He can strengthen us for the breezes as well as the storms. If you’ve messed up, ask for the grace to get up again: after all, we aren’t meant to stay down forever. We have a voyage to complete.

God bless you, friends J and I send along, as ever,

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

Laura

 

 

 

Educating the Liturgical Imagination: Walking in Another Person’s Shoes

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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Angleton, Texas had a difficult week.  On Wednesday morning, January 11, ten students and two former students were arrested at Angleton High School in an undercover drug bust that had been in the works for months.  These arrests drew national media coverage.  Four days later, an intruder stabbed two elderly people in their home just blocks from Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church.

Police investigated the stabbing while twenty-one youth from our parish (the only Catholic parish in Angleton, pop. 18,862), set up about a dozen cardboard boxes on the church lawn to serve as their shelters for the night.  The sun set gently, and as two fathers helped participants to build, no one would have predicted the temperature’s plunge ten degrees below the forecasted forty-five.  On the other hand, adult leaders wondered whether to let the youth sleep outside if, when the time came, police had not yet detained a suspect in the stabbing.

As part of a 24-hour Food Fast retreat, the youth had agreed to leave behind food and their warm beds in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who face hunger and homelessness.  Like the magi, as T.S. Eliot imagines them, the youth experienced unexpected vulnerability and even harshness during their journey:

A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.

….

And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities dirty and the towns unfriendly

And the villages dirty and charging high prices:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.  (T.S. Eliot, “Journey of the Magi,” 1-5, 13-20)

By bedtime, most of our hunger pangs had given way to a dull weariness, but in the middle of the night, one young person awoke feeling sharply hungry.  A voice responded from the swaddle of blankets next to her: “Think about how many other people in the world are going hungry right now.”  Her friend invited her to remember their purpose, their destination.

One of the first activities of the day had invited the youth to consider the purpose of their fast.  Catholic Relief Services, which provides resources for Food Fasts across the country (foodfast.org), asked the youth to reflect on Isaiah 58:6-11, Pope Benedict XVI’s Caritatis in veritate 27, and parts of the U.S. Bishops’ statements on Global Climate Change and Called to Global Solidarity.  Participants also considered the meanings of our Lenten and Eucharistic fasts and of the Lord’s Supper for their own relationship with food.

Many explained their purpose for fasting as “to grow closer to God” or “to walk in another person’s shoes.”  Certainly, the primary reason for the Food Fast was to taste, through learning and experience, the ways of life of so many of our brothers and sisters.  On the other hand, “to grow closer to God” is one of those universally applicable responses as to the purpose of attending some event at church.  Sometimes, the answer contains all the authenticity in the world.  This time, for example, no one forced the youth to fast and sleep in cardboard boxes.  More than one participant had friends who thought this ordeal absurd.  And it is beautiful that the youth trust that these events at church will bring them closer to God.  A local reporter asked one young person what she and the others would get out of this fast, and she responded that they would get whatever God wanted them to get out of it (The Facts, 18 January 2012).   Without at all diminishing this general way of saying it, the purpose can also be put more specifically.  The fast offered the opportunity to get closer to the suffering Christ, who is hidden not simply as a young boy in the Temple but in our neighbor, our humanity, our own hunger and thirst in whatever physical or spiritual or emotional form they take.  The fast also offered the opportunity to encounter Christ in the community of believers who shared the journey.

This community of believers extended beyond the participants and even beyond the parishioners who prayed, donated coats and blankets to charity, and cooked a break-fast meal.  As parishioners arrived at 5 p.m., 8 a.m., and 10 a.m., they saw cardboard shelters on the grass and cardboard signs painted with the words, “We do not live by bread alone” (Mt 4:4) and “You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mi 6:8).  They listened to a homily about “coming to see” where Jesus dwells (Jn 1:35-42).  Finally, at the 10 a.m. Mass, the assembly ended their Eucharistic fast and the youth ended their Food Fast with Holy Communion.  The assembly commissioned the youth to go forth as beacons of the light of Christ.

The purposes of the fast for solidarity, before Eucharist, and during Lent are not synonymous, but they are intimately tied so that the Food Fast paints a new layer onto the significance of fasting in our parish’s imagination.  Through the Eucharistic fast, we hope to attain the faith by which to confess and receive Christ’s humanity and divinity hidden in “this outward shape and form” (Adoro Te Devote).  In fasting in solidarity with the poor, we hope to attain the eyes to see and love Christ hidden in our neighbors, and to receive them as Christ (Mt 25:31-40).  Both fasts are opportunities to do penance and allow God to realign our desires.

In Christ’s life, death, resurrection, ascension, and sending of his Spirit, the fullness of truth is already revealed.  Jesus affirms our celebration in his words, “As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast” (Mk 2:19).  He continues, however, “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day” (Mk 2:20).  Our fasting, then, is the kind of fasting that happens after his death, resurrection, and ascension and before his coming in glory.  We fast in order to be united ever more closely to Him as his Paschal Mystery pours out during the liturgical year.  Thus our fasting, including at this Food Fast, points us as a community to the Lord God who is and who was – and who is yet to come (Rv 1:8).

Therefore, for now, we long with joy for the fullness of Christ.  We rely on the theological virtue of hope.  In T.S. Eliot’s imagination, the magi said of their arrival where Jesus lay, “it was (you may say) satisfactory” (“Journey of the Magi,” 31).  Satisfactory comes from facere, to do, and satis, enough.  Because of Christ, we know that ultimately, our humanity will do.  In him, our humanity has been made enough that we may someday see the face of God.  The fast, then, is a sign of hope: a proclamation of the insufficiency of the world and history on their own and a proclamation of the immanent redemption of both in the person of Christ.

When asked what they would take away from this experience, many youth focused on the experience itself.  They had an easy time articulating the good of exiting their comfort zone – as they said it, “walking in someone else’s shoes.”  They have shared in others’ suffering and so practiced com-passio.  Our work now is the translation of that experience into everyday life: where will we go from here?  How does that feeling, that experience of meaningful suffering or sacrifice, transform our relationships with God and with our brothers and sisters?  Who is Christ, that when we walk in our neighbors’ shoes we walk with him?

In T.S. Eliot’s poem, as the magi returned to their “places,” their “Kingdoms” (40), they were “no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation” (41).  The way things were, no longer worked for them.  In Angleton, the elderly stabbing victim died, and his wife remained in intensive care several days later.  Drugs warp the lives of high school and junior high school students.  Across the planet, 1.4 billion people still live on less than $1.25 per day (2011 Hunger Report, Bread for the World).

The good news, the substance of our hope, is that after and before and in the middle of what is unsatisfactory, there is enough.  After our fast was the Eucharist, and after the Eucharist was an abundance of delicious tamales, enchiladas, brownies, cookies, rice, beans, and nachos.  Over half the participants applied to be volunteers at the local women’s center.  Grace flooded the hearts of our parishioners, for whom the youth became signs of hope.

As Ordinary Time begins again, green liturgical vestments remind us that this is a season for growth and hope.  Jesus’ solidarity with us, his becoming flesh and dwelling among us, moves us to be prophets of his truth.  Receiving the new life Jesus offers, may we return to our places certain and hopeful, satisfied and hungry.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied (Mt 5:6).

 

 

Shaped by the Good News in the Liturgy: Part III

Fr. Paulinus Odozor, C.S.Sp.

Associate Professor of Christian Ethics, University of Notre Dame

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Formed by the Good News in the liturgy

How then does the Good news proclaimed in the liturgy form us? First, as already indicated it convokes us from the four winds and makes us into a community.  I belong to a religious /missionary community, the Holy Ghost Congregation (Spiritans) which still has missions in over seventy to eighty countries. Our interest is primary evangelization that is with starting churches in those places which have had no Christian presence or which have hardly been evangelized. The stories of missionary activity in these areas reveal the tremendous impact the Good news can have on a community. As a young seminarian I was sent to work with a pioneer Spiritan missionary in Toto in what is now Keffi diocese. Fr. Simon Emenanuo on arrival in this place which had been dominated previously by Islam and African Traditional religion went into direct door to door preaching. He soon had his first converts.  But he quickly realized that in order to hold them together he needed to form them into a worshiping and praying community. Initially he made use of the Hausa lectionary and hymnals but he quickly translated the prayers and thee bible into Bassa. His homilies in Bassa became the launching pad for the evangelization of the people. He co-opted  his new converts in the work of evangelization. Today, there is a thriving Church presence in the area. This is so much true that the Muslim majority who had seen the Bassa in the area as their underlings has taken note of this new presence and have gone on a war path against the Church. They tried to kill Fr. Simon who was saved and bundled away by his new community of faith.

Through, and in the liturgy the Good news forms us by sensitizing us to certain things and in certain ways. Consider the ways, the image of the blessed virgin as Mother of God has sensitized the entire Christian community on motherhood. In my part of Africa the celebration of the Blessed Mother in liturgical settings is perhaps the best case anyone can make not only for taking motherhood seriously but also for respect for women as mothers. It is not by accident that Mother’s day is celebrated in Nigeria on the Feast of the Annunciation. It is not accidental that the most powerful and most respected group in the Church is the Catholic Women’s Organization (CWO).   I am not saying that there was no such respect for motherhood before Christianity, all I am saying is that the good news, celebrated liturgically  has sensitized this community even more to this value as well as to theirs as well. Finally, I want to conclude this section by pointing out that the debate on inculturation which is an ongoing concern in African and other theologies is simply a debate about the shape the community which has encountered the Lord should take. It is not by accident that this debate took off first as a liturgical question.  The issues were simply that of determining whether the encounter with the Lord in Word and sacrament can only occur on terms supplied by other cultures and brought into Africa or whether Africans could come to this encounter as Africans, with all that that entails.  What is becoming clear in the debate on inculturation is that a community, convoked by the Lord and addressed in the liturgy has a distinctness about it which also impacts the choices it makes. This is not new since we have evidence of this in the New Testament and in the Christian tradition. Being formed into a people of God a community is let into the mind and intentions of God for humanity and for the world. Such a community would have to see the world with a different set of eyes. A community which is formed by the Good news is above all, a community of hope that is, a community which has faith that the grounds on which it stands is firm and that despite the trials and tribulations of the present age, the future is good because it is in God’s hands. Such a community is motivated to continue to toil, as if all depends on us, but to believe in God, knowing that all things depend on God.

Hopelessness and despair are not part of the Christian story. The Good news proclaimed in the liturgy challenges us to do more and to be more for the life of the world. Christians like everyone else are faced with obstacles, frustrations, failures and challenges in their lives. The liturgy is a privileged location for Christians to bring back their issues and concerns. There they are re-invigorated by the word of God and by the celebration of the sacraments and thus able to go back to the world to see how they can make it a more humane and livable place for all. Thus the community which is formed by listening to the good news and through encounter with Jesus in the liturgy is of necessity a missionary community. It must be a community which intentionally sets out to evangelize the world around it, to evangelize the world around it, including those who have lapsed from the faith and to take on new missions in places and areas where the Gospel is hard to preach or has hardly been preached. One of the tragedies of our time, especially in the Church in the United States is a loss of the sense of mission by the Church.  Few parishes have outreach program to its lapsed members. Fewer parishes still have missions to the community around them. On a much larger scale, the United States  church is becoming less and less a sending church. I am not here referring to the feel-good trips which some schools and even dioceses organize for some of their young people occasionally. I am speaking here of mission ad extra and ad intra as an intentional undertaking by the Church as a result of  its self- awareness as a community which encounters the risen Lord in the sacraments and which wants to share the joys of this encounter with everyone else because it is Good News.

When the Liturgy becomes ineffective

Perhaps, I should issue some sort of disclaimer towards the end on my paper.  There are two things I am not saying in this essay. In the first place, I am not saying that Scripture can or should only be read in the liturgy.  All I am saying is that the liturgy is the primary and most efficacious locus for announcing the good news, for learning what the scriptures have to offer, and for obtaining the fruits therefrom. There is no excuse for failing to read the scriptures on one’s own on a regular basis. As St Jerome said long ago, ignorance of the Bible is ignorance of Christ himself. The other thing I am not trying to do in this paper is give the impression that the liturgy always and in every situation constitutes an effective milieu for Christian formation. As in many other situations in life the liturgy rewards you for what you put in. Even though the liturgy is the work of God, it is also, human work.  God will always be God. The human agent through slothfulness, bias, ignorance or for whatever reason can frustrate God’s design.  But the good news is that God manages to continue to work his way through our many inadequacies.

 

Shaped by the Good News in the Liturgy: Part II

Fr. Paulinus Odozor, C.S.Sp.

Associate Professor of Christian Ethics, University of Notre Dame

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Liturgy as Integral to the Good News

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Christian liturgy as “the participation of the people of God in ‘the work of God’.”[1] It further states that “through the mystery of Christ, our redeemer and High priest continues the work of redemption in, with, and through his Church.”[2] There are three aspects to Christian liturgy: the celebration of divine worship, the proclamation of the Gospel, and active charity.[3] These three aspects also summarize the mission of Christ. Christ came into the world to do the work of God (John 17:4). Christ is our High Priest who continues to plead our cause before the throne of grace (Heb. 7:25). In his public ministry on earth Christ had constant solicitude for God’s people through his works of healing and charity.  Christ is thus, the priest par excellence, the one who continues to do the work of God. Hence, the liturgy is rightly seen as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. But the liturgy is also the work of the Church, the body of Christ. In the liturgy, the body of Christ, head and members, give full worship to God. “It follows then, says Vatican II that “every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of his Body, which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others.”[4] Echoing both Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI asserts that  “the Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (Kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable.”[5]

As already indicated the issue this paper seeks to investigate is that of the extent to which the fact of the Good news proclaimed in the liturgy has a formative impact on the lives of the community and of the individual Christian.   I will begin my reflection here by taking a look at some scriptural passages which occur regularly in the post-Easter lectionary, especially, John, 20: 19-31, and Luke  24: 13-35. Some aspects of the post-Easter lectionary impressed me more deeply this year than they had done in the previous years. Here are some points of interest from the lectionary.

First, as should be expected, the third readings of the first three Sundays of Easter are devoted to the post- resurrection appearances of the Risen Christ.  Secondly, aside from the account of the initial appearance of the Risen Lord on the morning of the resurrection or of the narrative of the empty tomb, the other accounts of the resurrection occur within a community gathering which had some liturgical undertones.  In John 20:19-31 we have an account of two appearances to the disciples gathered in a group. In the first appearance (John 20: 19-25) all of the apostles are present except for Thomas (Didymus) who is inexplicable away. This encounter takes place, according to the evangelist, on the evening of the very day of the resurrection. On this occasion Jesus shows the disciples his arms and his pierced side as proof of identity. He invokes his peace on them, gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit and gives them the power to forgive sins or to refuse to do so, all in his name. The gospel makes a point of stressing the absence of Thomas at this first meeting. When Jesus appears again a week later Thomas was present. He, Thomas, had been told about the first appearance of Jesus to the group the first time. He had doubted the tale because it made no sense. He would only believe that Jesus was indeed alive when and if he saw “the marks of the nail in his hands” and put his finger “in his side. Otherwise he said, “I will not believe” (John 20: 24).  When Jesus appears a week later and after the initial greetings, he goes straight to the matter and invites Thomas to do just as he had vowed to, that is “put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt, but believe.” William Barclay notes about Thomas that he made a mistake. His mistake was that “he withdrew from the Christian fellowship. He sought loneliness rather than togetherness. And because he was not there with his fellow Christians he missed the first coming of Jesus. We miss a great deal when we separate ourselves from the Christian fellowship and try to be alone. Things can happen to us within the fellowship of Christ’s church which will not happen to us when we are alone.”[6] My friend and colleague, Munachi Ezeogu, C.S.Sp, has this to say on his homily website about this incident between the post-resurrection Jesus and Thomas.

The second appearance focuses on Thomas.  Where could he have gone?  Could it be that when they heard that Jesus had risen from the dead, he, Thomas, went out on his own to seek him out? Perhaps he went to the houses of Jesus’ friends, to the house of Lazarus, Martha and Mary in Bethany, or to the village where they ate the last supper. He was seeking Jesus alone while Jesus was with the assembly of his followers. Could it be that this is the evangelist’s way of telling the reader that encounter with the risen Lord is something that happens not so much in the privacy of the individual’s religious initiative and practice as much as in fellowship with the community of believers? So the following Sunday Thomas is there fellowshipping with the rest of the community. Jesus appears as usual and Thomas experiences the desire of his heart and exclaims, “My Lord and my God (v. 28).” Next time around he would not lightly absent himself from the community Sunday assembly.[7]

As Ezeogu points out there are many people like Thomas in our society today who are seeking for the Lord in their own private hearts and on their own resources outside the worshipping and believing community. They try to draw near to God by engaging in all sorts of self-imposed devotional exercises. Religion, they say, is personal, and they are right. But religion is also communitarian, and this they need to learn just as Thomas did. One often hears people say, I read the Bible, I am a spiritual person but I am not religious. This means that they do not belong to any worshipping community , that is, a community that celebrates the sacraments. One also sees some theologians who do not go Mass or who seldom attend any liturgical celebrations. They theologize from presuppositions which are sometimes no less secular than their non-believing counterparts who study religions as a phenomenological reality. Many people today who are biblical scholars are careful not to link the Bible to faith. They are disdainful of the Church and its teaching authority when it speaks in any authoritative way on the Bible, forgetting, as St Jerome said long ago that the Bible was born in the womb of the Church. And even though the Bible stands in judgment over the Church as the second Vatican Council says, the true meaning of the Bible can only be evident within the believing and worshipping community. In the liturgy, the Christ takes time to interpret to his people “the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Lk: 24: 27). Here in the breaking of the bread and in the other sacraments he becomes present again to his people, in sacramental form.

The point here is that although it is true that proclamation is logically prior to worship there can be no deep faith aside from worship. As the scripture passages above attest it is in worship that we are exposed in a most intense way to the narratives that shape our lives as Christian believers. From worship to worship we re-tell our story or rather the story of God and of God’s dealings with us. We do not just retell it, we re-enact it in dramatic fashion both to delight God but also to memorialize it. In a true and real way, what we hear ever so often becomes us, takes hold of our imagination and  impels us to try to live morally upright lives.  “In liturgy – which is community remembering – we recall in celebration the life death, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in such a way that we appropriate more deeply our own present identity. In doing so, we enjoy the present experience of God.”[8] Christian liturgical celebration always consists of word and sacrament. Both are indeed two sides of the same coin.

It is Christian belief that Scripture as the word of God is a revelation of God’s intention to save. God’s salvific intent is absolutely and supremely made manifest in Jesus Christ. The story of Jesus is the story of God who so loves the world that even when “we sinned and lost his friendship” would not abandon us to death  but continues to help us all to seek and find him[9], a God who at the appropriate time sent his Son that we might have life and have it abundantly.[10] In the liturgy Christians recall and celebrate this fact. In the liturgy, the scripture as proclaimed is not just a retelling of the past but an invitation to all Christians to enter into God’s continued act of salvific benevolence in human history and to strive to further it through political commitment, that is through active engagement in and with the world for its own good and for the redemption of all humanity.

The Good news therefore lets us into the mind of God, as it were. The letter to the Ephesians talks of the mystery hidden long ago but revealed in our own time. The essence of this mystery is that God in Jesus is reconciling all humanity with himself and with each other. The Christian who listens to and celebrates the word of God in the liturgy is bound to come to knowledge of God’s intention for the world.  He or she is bound to be a disciple. “The biblical narratives and their liturgical commentary are intended to reveal the basic meaning and direction of Christian living as discipleship.”  As William Spohn said some time ago, a disciple of Jesus is one who takes seriously what Jesus took seriously. And what did Jesus take seriously? Jesus took God seriously.  He was saturated with the cause of God: “Zeal for your house consumes me.”[11] He made the cause of God his own to the point where he willingly paid the supreme prize for it. Jesus took human beings seriously, all human beings, including the outcast, children, women and men, the sick and the infirm, the rich and the poor. Jesus took reconciliation between God and humanity seriously. Forgiveness of sins was a major factor of his preaching and work. Jesus took life seriously and did everything he could to safeguard and restore it. The good news as proclaimed in the liturgy brings these realities into sharp focus for us and invites us to “go and do likewise.”[12]

 

Of course the liturgy is not the only place or setting where we can read the story of Jesus and of God’s revelation to humanity. Anyone can pick up the Bible and read up all these stories. The problem here is that the Bible without the liturgical backdrop is little more than another book or collection of stories. The story of God or of Jesus without a liturgical component risks being the story of another hero or even a fairy tale. As the pope points out in a recent speech, “If people forget God it is partly because the Person of Jesus is often reduced to that of the figure of a wise man and his divinity weakened, if not denied. This manner of thinking is an obstacle to understanding the radical newness of Christianity, because if Jesus were not the Only Son of the Father then God did not come to visit human history either. We only have human ideas about God.” [13]  In the liturgy we get the whole deal. In other words, the liturgy as proper setting for the story of Jesus forces us to remember that we are in the presence of something radically and supremely different.   It shapes us to become of the same mind and heart as Jesus. The story of God’s dealings and intentions told and retold in the liturgy shapes our imagination, sensitizes us and provides us with an angle of vision and a perspective on reality.

Let us return to Thomas the twin again. As already indicated his one mistake was that he had perhaps set out alone in search of the risen Jesus. When he returns to the group later on his faith was still very weak concerning the events of Easter Sunday. It is noteworthy that even before the Lord appears again to the group his fellow disciples were already evangelizing him. He was not yet strong again in his belief but we must not underestimate the impact that the community’s faith had on his own faith. When the Lord came again, there was something there to build on. The point is that in the liturgy the community acts as a bridge through which we build our faith/attachment to the Lord. We all have moments of doubt and distraction which can sometimes not be dispelled by merely reading the Bible alone within the confines of our rooms and homes.  The faith of the community proclaimed in and assented to in the worshipping community carries one along in such moments.

I had one such moment in my life as a seminarian when the anguish I felt at seeing my beloved mother dying in pain as a result of a cancer that had ravaged her formerly beautiful and energetic self led me to the point where I was almost being convinced by Frederich Nietzsche whose work I took a particular delight in at this time that there was no God or that God had once existed he was now dead. Two things saved my faith. One was the charity of my confreres in the community and indeed of the whole community. The second was participation in community worship, especially daily mass. Even though I was too distraught to join in community prayers and Eucharist at this time, my friends in community would not let me have my way on these occasions. They would often literally drag me to these events. Often, I chose the last and loneliest seat in the chapel. But that was enough. For, from there, I was struck by the devotion and the expressions on faith which were evident in the chapel. Initially, I wondered what this was all about, how anyone could believe in a loving God when events all around me spoke the contrary. Things were compounded when I remembered how religious and deeply faithful my ailing mum was and how despite her cries and prayers, God was not coming to her aid. My answer came that Easter week in 1979 when in participating with the community in worship the stories of the death and resurrection of the Lord took on a different dimension. To this day, I am sure that if I had not been part of a worshipping community that took the word and sacrament seriously I may have lost my faith.

Next time I will consider how the Good news proclaimed in the liturgy forms us.


[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church (Libreria Editrice Vaticana/ United States Catholic Conference, 1994, henceforth referred to as CCC), no. 1069).

[2] CCC, no.1069.

[3] CCC, no.1070

[4] Vatican II, “The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” (Sacrosanctum Concilium) in Autin Flannery, O.P. ed. Vatican Council II: Constitutions, Decrees, Declarations: A completely Revised Translation in Inclusive language( Northport, New York: Costello Publishing Company/Dublin Ireland, Dominican Publications, 1996), no.7#2-3.

[5] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est., n.25a

[6]  William Barclay, the  Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of John, vol 2: ch 8-21, rev. ed. (Burlington Ontario, Canada: Welch Publishing Co. 1975), p.276.

[8] Richard A. McCormick, “Scripture, Liturgy, Character, and Morality,” in Readings in Moral Theology, no.4: The Use of Scripture in Moral Theology, eds., Charles E. Curran and Richard  A. McCormick ( New York: Paulist Press, 1984,  p.290

[9] Cf The Fourth Eucharistic Prayer

[10] John 10:10

[11] Jn. 2:17

[12] Luke 10:37.

[13] www.zenit.org/article-32857?l=english From an address by the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI to the Roman Ecclesial Congress, June 14, 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

Shaped by the Good News in the Liturgy: Part I

Fr. Paulinus Odozor, C.S.Sp.

Associate Professor of Christian Ethics, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

This essay was given at the 2011 June liturgy conference hosted by the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.

Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord” (Lk. 2:10-11).  These words with which the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds go to the heart of the Christian understanding of the nature and mission of Jesus.  Jesus is bearer of the good news of God’s salvation. He is in fact the good news, God’s offer of grace. The question this presentation seeks to answer is that of the impact of Jesus on the life individuals who find salvation in him and on the community of his disciples. This is a very large question. To employ (abuse) Johannine language, to be able to address this issue adequately the entire world cannot contain the books which will have to be written on the subject. To be frank, a lot of work has been done on this issue from various aspects of theology. Take moral theology for example. Before, during, and shortly after the Second Vatican Council, there was a lot of discussion on the question of scripture and the moral life. In the first part of this debate  people were concerned with what specific norms are uniquely drawn from scripture and which norms are available to every other person including those who have not been addressed by God in scriptural revelation. The question of the distinctiveness of scripture soon gave way to the more specific one about what unique difference Jesus makes to moral discourse. That is, whether Jesus taught or introduced any moral norms which are specifically his, or knowable only by those who have faith in him. From this second phase we moved into a third one where people, tired of the intractable discourse on norms, their nature and sources, moved over to the discussion on virtue and character and for Christians, of how faith in Jesus, and attention to  his word impacted Christian moral behavior. The conclusion among some theologians  was that although scripture alone was not the  “final court of appeal for Christians”  the vocation of the Christian community “is to discern  what God is enabling  and requiring  man to be and  to do in particular natural , historical , and social  circumstances. Its moral judgments are made in light of that fundamental ought, or demand. Thus, scripture deeply informs these judgments. But it does not by itself determine what they ought to be.”[1] In other words, the role of scripture or of Jesus himself and his good news was more as shaper of the believer’s moral posture, attitude, disposition or perspective and moral intention.[2] I have no intention in this presentation to go into the intricacies of this discussion or to the evaluation of their merits especially since I have done so in several of my published works. And, even though I may make occasional references to the debate I do not intend to dwell at any length on this issue.

My interest in this paper is in the liturgy as locus of the celebration of the good news and as context of Christian formation. My first contention in this paper is that the debate over the role of scripture in Christian moral formation to which I alluded above was wrongheaded because it was carried out on a very narrow and dry understanding of scripture as Good News. It did not take sufficient account of the Good news or scripture as a living word and as a celebration of God’s offer of salvation, addressed to all human beings and accepted within and celebrated by the community of faith. In short, the discussions paid very little attention to the liturgical aspect of the Christian Kerygma and of the Christian life.

Jesus: Good News of God

The focus of the earliest Christian teaching was the absolutely fundamental event of the death and resurrection of Jesus and his expected return in glory. As Edward Schillebeeckx so often puts it, what happened on Good Friday was a fiasco. Those who had put their trust in Jesus of Nazareth were utterly stunned by these events. With the ignominious death of Jesus on the cross, their hopes were shattered.  The disciples on the road to Emmaus captured the sentiments of the other followers of Jesus when they said, “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Lk. 24.21). Although the disciples had initially to wrestle with panic, doubt and suspicion, they were able with the resurrection of Jesus to arrive at “a second innocence of tried faith, a faith in which they experienced that Jesus can indeed be trusted and that he is alive and in their midst, though in a different way.”[3] Thus, faith in the one who was crucified, died and was buried and who now lives with God, has always been the first Christian proposition. Sacrosanctum Concilium says as much:  “Before people can come to the liturgy they must be called to faith and conversion. ‘How then are they to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can people preach unless are they are sent?” Rom. 10: 14-15.[4]

In the life and death of Jesus Christians understood that God was doing something utterly new, something unrepeatable in its uniqueness. In Acts 4:10, 12, we hear the Christian appreciation of what Joseph Sitler refers to as God’s engendering deed in a nutshell.  This passage comes after the healing of the crippled man at the temple gate.  After this miracle many people were amazed at the what had happened. But the incident brought unwanted attention from the religious authorities who threw Peter and John in jail. When they were arraigned before the authorities the next day, they were asked to state the source and authority of their miraculous power. It was then they gave this statement which has  since formed the center of the Christian kerygma:  “…Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health  by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead…There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved (Acts 4; 10, 12).

The Church has been the place in which the memory of Jesus has been kept alive all these centuries. Without the Church, the story of Jesus would perhaps have been no more than a historical footnote. The Second Vatican Council was indeed very correct when it referred to the Church as sacrament of Christ in the world. This means that the Church is the place where “salvation from God is made a theme or put into words, confessed explicitly, proclaimed prophetically and celebrated liturgically.”[5] For Christians, there is no Jesus without the Church’s confession of Christ, “just as there is no Church confession without the liberating appearance of the historical Jesus of Nazareth.”[6]  The first result of the Good news of Jesus Christ is the calling into being of the Christian community, a community which finds ultimate meaning in the person and teaching of Jesus Christ. But there is more. Even though the first liturgical act of Christians has always been faith, that is belief in the absolute lordship of Jesus, Christian faith has never been merely a notional assent to a set of propositional truths. It has always been an assent to a person, Jesus, the Christ of God; it has always issued in, and been nourished by worship and expressed in charity.  This is illustrated very clearly in the life of early Christians and of the primitive Church.

Gaius Plinus Cacilinus Secundus, also known as Pliny the Younger was imperial legate to Bithynia-and- Pontus (c. 110-113) when Trajan was emperor in Rome. Like many Roman officials of his day, Pliny found the Christians in a way insufferable, and in another, quaint. The more Pliny tried to deal with the “Christian problem” the more it seemed to grow. Pliny felt compelled to investigate this group further in order to be in the position to give a more comprehensive report to his imperial masters in Rome.  In a portion of his letter Pliny pinpoints the central issue in the Christian religion.  He had in the course of his investigation discovered, he said, that Christians gathered on a fixed day, before dawn, and together recited a hymn “to Christ as to a god, alternating back and forth (carmenque Christo quasi dicere secum invicem) and commit themselves not to anything criminal, but to avoiding theft, robbery, and adultery, to not breaking their word, and to not refusing to deliver up a deposit when summoned to do so. After that, they would disband, and come together again to have a meal, but with ordinary and harmless food…”[7]

I want to highlight three important points in this letter.  The first point, as we can see from the letter, is that the Christian religion has always involved community worship at which Christ is the center, and during which Christ is adored as divine. The second point is that Christian worship involves a ritual meal at which all participate. Thirdly, in the course of the Christian worship/ritual meal Christians make a moral commitment to be of good behavior. As Franz Van Beeck points out, Pliny’s account leads to the conclusion that Christian worship is the identifying mark of the Christian and that Jesus Christ, worshipped as divine is the central theme.[8] Of course the Second Vatican Council affirms as much when it recounts that from the very first Pentecost, Christians having received the Holy Spirit, “have never failed to come together  to celebrate the paschal mystery, reading those things  ‘which were in all the scriptures concerning him’ (Luke 24:27), celebrating the Eucharist, in which  ‘the victory and triumph  of his death  are again made  present’ and at the same time ‘giving thanks to God for his inexpressible gift’ (2Cor 9:15) in Christ Jesus, ‘in praise of  his glory (Eph. 1:12) through the power of the Holy Spirit.”[9] In other words, as one ancient writer puts it, we have always been a community which moves from Eucharist to Eucharist. Although Christ is present in many ways to his people, as the Second Vatican Council affirms, the liturgy constitutes the most privileged locus of encounter with Christ the good news of God.

The next part of this article will treat how liturgy is integral to the Good News.


[1] James M. Gustafson, “The Place of Scripture in Christian Ethics: A Methodological Study,” in Readings In Moral Theology,  vol. 4: The Use Of Scripture in Moral Theology, eds. Charles Curran and Richard A. McCormick (New York/Ramsey: Paulist Press, 1984), p.176

[2] See among others,  James M Gustafson, Christ and the Moral Life (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press: 1968), especially, pp.238-271; William C. Spohn, Go and Do Likewise: Jesus an Ethics (New York: Continuum, 1999).

[3] Edward Schillebeeckx, God Among Us: The Gospel Proclaimed (New York: Crossroad Publishing, co., 1983), p.122

[4] Vatican II, “The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” (Sacrosanctum Concilium) , no.9 in Austin Flannery, O.P. ed. Vatican Council II: Constitutions, Decrees, Declarations: A completely Revised Translation in Inclusive language( Northport, New York: Costello Publishing Company/Dublin Ireland, Dominican Publications, 1996).  All references to the documents of Vatican II are from this text unless otherwise stated.

[5] Edward Schillebeeckx,  On Christian Faith: The Spiritual, Ethical and Political Dimensions (Crossroad Publishing: New York, 1987), p.32

[6] Edward Schillebeeckx, On Christian Faith, p.36.

[7] C. Plini Cacili Secundi Epistolarum Libri Decem, Ed by  R.A.B Mynors (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1963). This translation is from Franz Josef Van Beeck, God Encountered: A Contemporary Catholic Systematic Theology, vol. 1: Understanding the Christian faith (New York: Cambridge, Philadelphia: Harper and Row Publishers, San Francisco), p.146.

[8] Franz Josef Van Beeck, God Encountered, p.148.

[9] Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Consilium, no.6.

Editorial Updates

Friends,

Sorry about the recent downturn in publishing.  With the beginning of the semester at hand, with two new courses, as well as the final details being worked out with our new journal, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization–well, it’s been a beast of a week.

I hope to develop a greater consistency over the coming days, as I settle into a pretty robust teaching load.  We’re also looking for new contributors, interested in the intersection of liturgy, sacramental theology, and spirituality–with an eye toward the catechetical. Send all submissions to tomalley@nd.edu.  

Adoration of the Eucharist Today

On November 7, 2011, Fr. John Baldovin, S.J. gave a lecture sponsored by the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy on the adoration of the Eucharist in the present life of the Church.  The video of this lecture is featured below.  Many thanks to Fr. John for taking time out of his busy schedule to come to Notre Dame to give this talk.

 

Praising God Aright: A Theological Commentary on Epiphany Hymnody

Carolyn Pirtle

Director of Music and Elementary Music Instructor

St. John Berchmans Parish, Chicago, IL

Contact Author

As a parish music director, I have the special task each week of choosing the hymns that will be sung during Mass. It is quite possibly my favorite part of the job, because it necessitates that I spend time with the prescribed scripture passages for each Sunday and engage with them in a unique form of lectio divina. Not only does the hymn selection process entail the four steps of reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation, but it also goes one step farther. After breaking open the Word, I must then turn to the repertoire at my disposal in order to choose hymns that will best express the message conveyed in the scriptures. The music sung during Mass is more than just a lovely way to fill the silence that would otherwise occupy the offertory collection or the communion procession; it is a means of reflection on the liturgical season, on the liturgical action taking place in a particular moment, and, most importantly, on the Word of God proclaimed in scripture. In fact, the music should be an elevation of that reflection, for it envelops liturgical and scriptural imagery in the beauty of poetry and melody, rhythm and harmony. In a recent commentary on the prologue of the Gospel of John, Fr. Donald Senior, CP, articulated this idea thus:  “…hymns can break the boundaries of ordinary speech and express intuitions and deeply held beliefs that are almost too much for words” (“John’s Prologue: The Last Word,” from Give Us This Day:  Daily Prayer for Today’s Catholics, Advent – Christmas 2011, vol. 1, issue 5, p. 324).

Because the hymns are such a reflection of the Word and action of the liturgy, it should
come as no surprise that their texts influence my decision much more than just the
music itself.  But how often does a congregation remember a hymn’s text?  How often does a congregation even notice a hymn’s text?  Concealed in the simplicity of hymnody
lie some of the most profound prayers and theological statements in the Church, yet
this profundity is often lost, ironically because the beauty of the music itself
overshadows the meaning of the text. People may leave the church humming the
closing hymn, but it’s much more rare that they are recalling the words of the hymn as
well as its tune.  Even music ministers can fit the profile of one who sings without
absorbing the meaning of what he or she is actually singing.  In fact, they are often more
likely to sing a text one moment and completely forget the words the next moment.  It’s
almost like highway hypnosis: a singer may reach the end of a hymn and not have any
recollection of the text that transpired from its beginning to its conclusion.

In order to focus on the full theological weight and meaning of a hymn text, one must isolate it from the melody.  Once a singer comprehends the text in its own right, then he or she can further elevate that text by rejoining it to its melody.  We pray twice not only when we sing the words, but also when we truly understand and mean the words we sing.

While singing in the University of Notre Dame Folk Choir, I was introduced to the
practice of ending each choir rehearsal with a prayer that culminated in the recitation of
a hymn text selected for the upcoming Sunday liturgy.  As this took place, inevitably, the tune would find its way into my head and provide an underscore to the text, but hearing the text apart from the tune caused different phrases to catch my attention.  Then, when I would sing the hymn during the Mass the following Sunday morning,  those particular phrases of text would literally resonate within me in a whole new way.

Hymn texts are some of the most beautiful prayers in the Church today.  Each month, I
will share one that particularly captures the essence of a feast or season, or a liturgical
rite or scripture passage, followed by a brief commentary.  It is my hope that this will
encourage others to pay closer attention to the texts of the hymns sung week in and
week out, so that they may in turn be inspired by the poetic images and awed by the
theological richness present in the music they hear during Mass.

As the first of what will hopefully be many such offerings, I would like to present the
text “Epiphany Carol,” written by Francis Patrick O’Brien (b. 1958. © GIA Publications.
This text is most often associated with the tune Beach Spring, often sung with the text “God of Day and God of Darkness”).

Epiphany Carol

Ev’ry nation sees the glory of a star that pierced the night.
As we tell the wondrous story we are bathed in radiant light.
Star sent forth from highest heaven, dancing light of God’s design,
Shine upon the gift that’s given: Word made flesh now born in time.

Ev’ry tongue shall sing the praises of his birth in deepest night.
He is healing for the ages; he is Christ, our God’s delight.
He proclaims within his being all our hopes, our great desires.
He shall die to rise redeeming all who follow with their lives.

Once again may we discover Word made flesh sent from above
In our neighbor, sister, brother, in the lonely and unloved.
May we touch him, may we hold him, may we cradle him with care
As we learn to love each other, bringing hope from out despair.

Gather, God, the world together in the brightness of your day.
Fill our hearts with joy forever, help us walk the holy way.
May your justice rule the nations; may all people live as one.
Now we see our true salvation in the glory of your Son.

Right away, we know the feast this hymn texts celebrates, for the first two words echo the psalm antiphon for Epiphany: “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” As we recall the “wondrous story” of the Incarnation, we are once again “bathed in radiant light,” the light of Jesus, the true light who has come into the world. In only a few lines, this hymn text allows us to journey with the Magi who seek the “gift that’s given.”  What sets this text apart from other hymns often heard during Christmas and Epiphany is the fact that it does not simply present a recapitulation of the Christmas story; it describes the ramifications of the Incarnation for all of humanity.  The word “now” in the phrase “Word made flesh now born in time” calls to mind the reality that Jesus, born once in time, is still born in our hearts today through prayer and sacrament.

Additionally, this text not only tells the story of Christ’s birth, but it also foreshadows His Passion, Death, and Resurrection; it contains reference to the whole plan of salvation history.  This infant heralded by a star is born to die and rise for the redemption of “all who follow with their lives.”

Perhaps the most striking element in this hymn text is the fact that it makes Epiphany a
present reality for today’s faith-filled people.  The third verse encourages us to see
Christ revealed in the faces of the poor and marginalized.  The entire verse, particularly
the phrase “May we touch him, may we hold him, may we cradle him with care” calls
to my heart these words of Jesus: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of
mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40).  This hymn text reminds us that we are called to
seek the face of Christ in the face of every human person, and that we are called to love
our brothers and sisters as we love Christ Himself.

Finally, the last verse is a petition to God, asking that the redemption of the world ushered in by the Incarnation may come to its fruition in the lives of the faithful, reaching its culmination in the eschaton.

In only four short verses, this hymn speaks to the specific liturgical celebration of
Epiphany, but it transcends mere story-telling and becomes a stirring call to bring about
the revelation of Christ by living a faith-filled life. By seeking Christ in today’s world,
by revealing Him to others in love, may we ourselves become living epiphanies, manifestations of Christ’s Incarnate love.