Over at the Catholic Conversation


An intriguing post on the Catholic Conversation, a sister blog of our own, by the Catholic Social and Pastoral Research Initiative .  The post addresses how specific values (including horizontal and vertical spirituality, as well as Catholic education) affects parish vitality.

What strikes me (relative to measurement) is the distinction made between horizontal and vertical spirituality.  That there is a divide between the two spiritualities means that the liturgical movement begun in the early part of the 20th century remains a project in progress.  As Joseph Ratzinger writes in a collection of essays by his students (Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith:  The Church as Communion):

Only a power and a love that are stronger than all our own initiatives can build up a fruitful and reliable community and impart to it the impetus of a fruitful mission.  The unity of the Church, which is founded upon the love of the one Lord, does not destroy what is particular in the individual communities; rather, it builds them up and holds them together as a real communion with the Lord and with each other.  The love of Christ, which is present for all ages in the Sacrament of his Body, awakens our love and heals our love:  the Eucharist is the foundation of community as it is of mission, day by day (89).

Thus, in a real sense, without a robust vertical spirituality (requiring a transcendent encounter with Christ’s self-gift in the sacrament of the Eucharist), our horizontal spirituality becomes a kind of self-worship–whereby rather than be transformed by the living God, we set up an idol of ourselves upon the altar of God.


Happy, Happy Friday: Why Worship a Golden Bovine Anyway?

Laura McCarty

Notre Dame Alumna, Class of 2011

Contact Author


PRELUDIO: OK folks, however you may feel about the Bruno Mars original of this song (whether you think it’s more beautiful than a Monet painting OR whether you think it’s cornier than “Days of Our Lives”), this version is just…beautiful. (Sidenote: all of the Piano Guys’ youtube videos that I’ve found are pretty awesome. No, they aren’t paying me anything, but you should check their musical gems out :))

And if you think this song sounds like elevator music, then it must be the elevator on the way to the person you love most in the world (or maybe even the elevator in that one hotel where they have all of the ducks waddle down the pond from the elevator every morning):



So now that everyone’s feeling soothed and at peace with the world after that song (and wondering which hotel has famous elevator ducks because you feel like that’s something you learned at some point in your lives. It’s okay. Don’t let it torture you. You’re BIGGER than that.) we can talk about…all of the weird things that, would we alien tourists from another dimension, would make us think that humanity was SERIOUSLY bizarre (along with hotel ducks). For example:

1)      Every February, we rely on ONE groundhog in the WHOLE world to tell us whether winter is going to stick around. Isn’t this an important question for any one person, much less a rodent who has no idea what’s going on in his immediate environment and doesn’t even have a license for this sort of thing? Shouldn’t we at least take a poll of twenty or forty groundhogs and go for a 2/3rds majority?

2)      Why do bumper stickers gradually become one with the bumper or back of a person’s car until they resemble a patch of duct tape but can’t be removed even with laser technology?

3)      We actually name our pet cats. Does the cat really care if we call it Shadow or Gus or Doofus Persnickity-numpus? I guess that dogs are the same way, though, because it’s all about the tone of voice with dogs, whereas with cats it’s all about their selective hearing and their determination to prove that they will NEVER submit to being walked on a leash or any of that garbage that makes dogs GROVEL. Excuse the cat while it goes off to throw up in disgust.

4)      Women wear REALLY high heels (which, no matter how they defend the practice, STILL seem like the last legal form of torture) and men wear ties (WHY? What does a tie do except cover up the top button of an oxford shirt? We all know the button is there, and we’re not judging it for existing. Really, calm down).

5)      Despite the fact that salmon-colored clothing can only be pulled off by 10% of the human population, it continues to be produced. So do turtleneck sweaters and suit jackets with really high, really square shoulders. And leisure suits and checkered flare pants. But we’ll end there. We need to keep this moving.

THE HEART OF THE EMAIL: Or, Why Worship a Golden Bovine Anyway?

Youtube clip of the week:

(Before this Heart really takes flight, I want to preface it by saying that even though I type these emails, I never quite live up to what they preach. And this email is that way, perhaps this week more than usual. OK, we can get started. Thanks for bearing with me, folks.)

Did anyone ever think the Israelites at Sinai were pretty dumb for worshipping a golden calf? I mean really, a COW? Where’s the appeal in that? Well, I don’t pretend to comprehend the ‘cow’ part of the whole thing, but I can relate to the idea on a different level. Don’t we sometimes wish we had a God who couldn’t speak the things that challenged us, see the things that shamed us, hear the words we spoke out of cowardice or self-preservation, and even smell the things that were less than aromatic in our own hearts? Do we sometimes wish that we could avoid the reality of a living God just for the sake of avoiding His sternness and His demands on our lives? Do we ever wish He could give us a BREAK?

Don’t get me wrong, people: if there’s one thing we MUST not forget in all of this, it’s that God unconditionally, inescapably, and unstoppably LOVES us. If there’s something the Cross shows us, it’s that His love will go to the greatest possible lengths to save us from the worst of ourselves. But His love asks for a response: His love demands us to take risks, to step out into the darkness trusting that He will light the way, and to live a life offering danger, drama, and high adventure. While He didn’t promise that it would be comfortable, He did promise that it would be worth it and that it sure as heck wouldn’t be boring. It depends on how intense you like the colors of your life to be, because without the contrast of the dark colors the bright and shining colors aren’t as beautiful. Beige is more comfortable, but is it as lovely?

It’s like the scene in “The Giver” where Jonas (who lives in a world that is painless, predictable, and utterly controlled) is transported by the Giver (who holds all of the memories of how the world once was) into a family’s living room at Christmas. He looks around and feels the joy of the family and their togetherness, and he notices the candles burning in their holders. When he returns to the present, he mentions the candles, saying that it was RISKY having fire burning right there in the room. But he finishes by saying, “Still, I liked the light they made. And the warmth.”

That is the great risk of following God. We don’t KNOW if by allowing fire into the room, we will risk burning down the house. We may ask Him a question and not like the answer, and we may see ourselves as He sees us and not be comfortable with what we see. We may even offer Him our lives and then He demands of us the one thing we never intended to give Him. All of these things are the risks we take by believing in, and following, a living God with a divine will and a Heart burning with love for us. Does it frighten us that we can cause God pain or that we can give Him joy when it would be so much easier to believe that our actions cannot move His Heart? Maybe we can relate to the statue-worshipping Israelites more than we thought, because if we’re being quite honest with ourselves, meeting the gaze of absolute Goodness sounds terrifying. But the terror is not eternal: it only lasts until it can, and will, give way to perfect and everlasting joy. With God’s help, if we can face the justice of that gaze, then we can receive its mercy and enter into its love.

As I said, friends, I am quite unworthy to speak on this matter. Forgive me, friends, for not practicing well what I preach. If I could make it any easier to bear, I would, but one cannot alter the Truth. One cannot pretend that the universe offers any true joy outside of the source of all joy.

Friends, thank you for your patience in reading this massive email. You’re champions in my book J and I send along my gratitude as well as my



Living Christ’s Life by Sacrament (Part IV): Transubstantiation as Union with Christ

David Fagerberg, PhD

Associate Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

Senior Advisor of NDCL, Co-editor of Oblation

Contact Author

The fourth of a four part series on Living Christ’s Life by Sacrament originally delivered at the South Bend-Fort Wayne Eucharistic Congress in 2007.

Part I    Part II   Part III

In his book, Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Benedict refers to the transubstantiated Host as “the anticipation of the transformation and divinization of matter in the christological ‘fullness.’” (29)  Again, he says the Eucharist is the action of God that “is the real ‘action’ for which all of creation is in expectation. The elements of the earth are transubstantiated, pulled, so to speak, from their creaturely anchorage, grasped at the deepest ground of their being, and changed into the Body and Blood of the Lord.  The New Heaven and the New Earth are anticipated” (173).  There is an eschatological end at work within creation, unleashed by Christ’s paschal victory, and when transubstantiation makes the risen Lord Jesus present, then the eschatological end of history and the sacramental purpose of creation is experienced aright. We have wounded creation, and the Eucharist restores creation’s eschatological end, even as it sacramentally effects the end of man, which is communion with God. Transubstantiation does not refer us backward, to the crucified flesh of Jesus, but forward and upward, to the risen and glorified flesh of Jesus.

The last meaning Scheeben gave to physis was to define it as the principle of motion which makes a thing act like what it is (see Part II). If we are in physical union with Christ, then his activity can be found in us. The one, central, overriding activity of the Son of God is to glorify the Father, and, by means of the Spirit, to bring all things before the Father. This is my functioning definition of sacrifice. I know it is quite different from the ordinary definition that focuses on giving up something. But the Catechism has made Augustine’s definition of sacrifice its own, and I prefer it, too. “Sacrifice is ‘every action done so as to cling to God in communion of holiness, and thus achieve blessedness.’” This was Christ’s whole life – to cling to God in communion of holiness and receive his blessing – and his death on the cross was only its climax. Deification enables us to understand the sacrifice of the mass as participation in the sacrificial physis of Christ.

In his book on the Eucharist, Fr Cantalamesssa asks how the sacrifice of the cross can be made present to us? How is it that the cross is not ended and concluded in itself, like every other event in history? Every other accomplishment passes into the past after its fruition, and we do not have the power to conjure it up again out of history. Yet the cross is a continuing presence to us, and to the Father. How is this possible? Cantalamessa’s answer is pneumatological. The event of the cross is a spiritual event because of the Holy Spirit, which means the cross is an eternal event because this is the eternal Spirit. What was done in the Spirit will never fade from sight or significance.

The relationship of Son and Spirit in the Gospel has already revealed how they work in collaboration – like the two hands of the Father, Irenaeus said. The Son was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit (Mt 1.18); he had the Spirit descend on him at the Jordan (Mt 3.16); he was led by this Spirit into the desert for forty days of ascetical battle with Satan (Mt 4.1); after those forty days, he came back to Galilee in the power of the Spirit (Lk 4.14);  he was anointed to preach that good news, and that is why the Spirit was on him (Lk 4.18); he was the servant who is God’s delight, about whom the prophet said God’s Spirit would be poured (Mt 12.18); he drives out demons by means of the Spirit (Mt 12.28); when he praises the Father he does so rejoicing in the Spirit (Lk 10.21); he will baptize with this Spirit, while John only baptized with water (Mk 18); a blaspheme against this Spirit will not be forgiven (Mk 3.29); at trial his disciples needn’t worry because it will not be them speaking but this Spirit (Mk 13.11); he tells Nicodemus that he has to be born of water and the Spirit (Jn 3.5); the one sent by God is given the Spirit without limit (Jn 3.34); his disciples will only understand his words without grumbling and offense if the Spirit gives them life (Jn 6.63); when he promised streams of living water given to those who thirst, he meant the Spirit, who would be given when he was glorified (Jn 7.39).  The life of Christ was permeated by the Spirit! So was his death. And so is his resurrected life in us now. The same work that the Holy Spirit did over him, he will do over us. The Spirit will include us in the same work that Christ does now. The sacrifice of the mass is a spiritual event because it is a work of the Holy Spirit.

And here is how Cantalamessa describes that spiritual sacrifice. “At every ‘breaking of the bread’ when the priest breaks the host, it’s as if the alabaster vase of Christ’s humanity were being broken again, which is what happened on the Cross, and as if the perfume of his obedience were rising to touch the Father’s heart again.”[i] When the alabaster vase of Christ’s humanity – his body and blood, soul and divinity – is broken at each altar, across time and across space, the perfume of his obedience imbues us, and we become the aroma of Christ. A drop of perfume in a glass of water shares its sweetness with the whole. Christ drops himself into his Church and his aroma permeates each member. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, “For we are the aroma of Christ for God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to the latter an odor of death that leads to death, to the former an odor of life that leads to life.” (2 Cor 2:15-17)

Finally, this physical union is not only a matter of us calling out to Christ, but of him calling out to us. He desires union with us, too. A human being’s deification is not only his goal, but God’s goal, too. He wishes nothing more for us with more intensity and enthusiasm than to have us step up into divine life. All creation is directed to this purpose. This aching in God’s heart is also expressed in the Eucharist, and who better to enunciate it than the golden-mouthed preacher, John Chrysostom. He places these words into the mouth of Christ speaking spoken to a communicant approaching the altar.

For you I was covered with blows and spittle; I divested Myself of My glory, I left My Father and I came to you, you who abhorred Me, fled from me, and would not even hear My name. I pursued you, I ran after you, in order to hold you, and I united with you and bound you to Myself. ‘Eat Me,’ I said, ‘and drink Me.’ Is it not enough that I possess your first fruits in the heavens? [He means his resurrected body which is the first fruits of our bodily resurrection.] Does that not satisfy the desire? I also descended to earth, not only to mingle Myself with you, but to intertwine Myself with you; I am eaten, I am broken into pieces, in order that the mingling, the blending, the union may be profound. The things which one unites remain – each in itself; I, even as I, as if one tissue with you. I no longer want anything between the two of us; I desire that the two may be one. [Homily 1 Timothy]

Hear the verbs Chrysostom uses: mingle, intertwine, blend, union, one tissue. Christ is broken into pieces in order that the union may be profound.

[i] Cantalamessa, 14.


Lift Up Your Hearts: Seminars for Liturgical and Spiritual Formation


Several months ago we announced that we would be launching a new series of free, online seminars on matters related to liturgical and spiritual formation.  Starting today, we’re happy to let everyone know that our first seminar has begun.  It is entitled Mystagogical Musical Musings and the content has been provided by Fr. Michael Joncas, through a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment, administered by the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship.  The seminars include discussion questions, articles for reading, and simply a place to have a chat about the Church’s liturgy.  In addition, a conversation on the Reformation has begun by Tom Cummings, the director of STEP.  Future conversations will include a mystagogy of the Triduum, Benedictine spirituality, the Joseph bible studies, the spiritual formation of a choir, and more!

You may sign-up to participate in this first of many planned conversations on liturgical prayer, music, sacramental theology, and spirituality by clicking on the following link:

 Lift Up Your Hearts:  Seminars for Liturgical and Spiritual Formation

A Joint Initiative of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy and STEP:  Theology Online

Living Christ’s Life by Sacrament (Part 3): The Eucharist Makes the Church

David Fagerberg, PhD

Associate Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

Senior Advisor of NDCL, Co-editor of Oblation

Contact Author

The third of a four part series on Living Christ’s Life by Sacrament originally delivered at the South Bend-Fort Wayne Eucharistic Congress in 2007.

Part I    Part II

Christ shares with us the vital energies that he constantly draws from intimate communion with his Father in heaven. This is what it means to call Christ mediator. He is a personal union, a hypostatic union, of divine nature and human nature. And whereas he is in union with God as his only-begotten Son, and whereas he is in union with us as a fellow human being, he mediates our union with the Father. The only-begotten Son of God gives his Spirit to us that we also become sons of God (men and women share in the physis of the Eternal Son). We have physical union with Christ, not just a moral union. It is a physical union when the powers of x are found in y, when the power of flight is found in a horse, when heat is found in iron, or when the life of God is found in a human being. And the life of God lived by a new race on earth is the Church. The Church is a body composed of persons in physical union with Christ, who was himself the personal union of two natures, human and divine.

This union is initiated at Baptism into the Son of God, and confirmed with an anointing in the Holy Spirit. At Baptism we are plunged by sacramental imitation into a real participation of Christ’s paschal journey through death to new life. We are regenerated by being unified with Jesus the Christ through the same Spirit that anointed him in the Jordan– Christus means “anointed one.” This is the lead Cyril of Jerusalem takes in his mystagogy of baptism. He does not pull his punches when he compares Christian baptism to Christ’s baptism.

Hence, since you ‘share in Christ,’ it is right to call you Christs or anointed ones …. You have become anointed ones by receiving the sign of the Holy Spirit …. Christ bathed in the river Jordan, and having invested the waters with the divine presence of his body, he emerged from them, and the Holy Spirit visited him in substantial form, like come to rest on like. In the same way, when you emerged from the pool of sacred waters you were anointed in a manner corresponding with Christ’s anointing.  That anointing is the Holy Spirit, of whom the blessed Isaiah spoke when he prophesied in the person of the Lord: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good tidings to the poor.’

We are not only Christ’s (apostrophe s), we are Christs (plural).

We become by grace what Christ is by nature. Divine adoption is dependent on baptismal regeneration, which unites and assimilates us to the natural Son of God. In Galatians 3:27 Paul writes, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ, you have clothed yourselves with Christ.” When John Chrysostom preached on this he said:

If Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and if you have put Him on, having the son in you and being assimilated to him, you have been raised to one and the same relation, one and the same form … you are all in Christ Jesus; that is to say, you only have one form, one figure, that of Jesus Christ. [Commentary on Galatians 3.5][i]

Same relation, one form, one figure, shared physis.

The various other sacraments protect or restore or nourish the divine life into which we are assimilated in baptism and which the confirming Spirit strengthens (confirmation). If that life is mortally wounded, the sacrament of reconciliation ties a tourniquet on the hemorrhage and restores the state of grace. When sickness of the body assails the spiritual life of faith, the sacrament of anointing administers spiritual medicine to the wounded soul. The union of Christ with his Church is sacramentalized in marriage, which also increases Christian society. And through Holy Orders men are set aside to consecrate the sacrifice of life, and nourish our divine life with divine doctrine. I am summarizing Pius XII in Mystici Corporis Christi when he compares the sacraments given to the mystical body with the various means given to the human body to provide for its own life, health and growth. He says, “The Savior of mankind out of His infinite goodness has provided in a wonderful way for His Mystical Body, endowing it with the Sacraments, so that, as though by an uninterrupted series of graces, its members should be sustained from birth to death, and that generous provision might be made for the social needs of the Church.” [para 17]

But the font leads most directly to the table, where, feeding on Christ, this assimilation is increased through Eucharistic communion. It is in the Eucharist that this divine life is especially nourished. Gregory of Nyssa says the Eucharist contains:

that body which proved to be stronger than death and which was for us the beginning of life. Just as a little leaven … is assimilated into all the dough, so the body made immortal by God, once having entered into ours, transforms it and changes it completely into itself, … into its own nature [pros ton eautou physin]  [Gregory Nyssa, Or. Catech. 37] [ii]

In the Eucharist, his immortal body enters our mortal body, and his life transforms us into his own physis. When we eat his Eucharistic body, and Christ enters into us, then we are in him, as Paul stuttered 164 times. It is a dietary paradox, because normally if the tiger eats the man, then the man is in the tiger, not vice-versa. But this is different eating. In the natural digestive system of the body, what I eat turns into me. But in the supernatural digestive system of the Church, I become what I eat. Augustine marveled at it in his Confessions:

When I first knew thee, thou didst lift me up, that I might see that there was something to be seen, though I was not yet fit to see it...And thou didst beat back the weakness of my sight, shining forth upon me thy dazzling beams of light, and I trembled with love and fear…I realized that I was far away from thee in the land of unlikeness, as if I heard thy voice from on high: “I am the food of the fully grown; grow and you shall feed on me…And you will not change me into you, like the food your flesh eats, but you will be changed into my likeness.”[iii]

I guess your Mother was right after all. Did she not always tell you that “you are what you eat”? At communion you are given the body of Christ to eat, and you will be changed into His body. The Church is the body of Christ.

There is, I believe, an intentional ambiguity in the language of the Church. The phrase “the body of Christ” is used about three things. It means the historical body of Jesus, the Eucharistic body, and the Church. Jesus had a body, the Eucharist is Christ’s body, the Church is the body of Christ. Sometimes you get a theologian or two who rediscovers one of the uses and emphasizes it to the exclusion of the other – like it’s more important to say we are Christ’s body than to say the Eucharist is Christ’s body; or the reverse happens, as if it’s more important to remember the Eucharist is Christ’s body than we are. But I think that using the same phrase for all three realities is a confession of faith in a physical union between the historical Christ, the sacramental presence, and the community of believers. Jesus saves, the Church is a hospital for sinners, and the Eucharist is the remedy of salvation. The historical, the sacramental, and the ecclesial body is one body. We become one with the one whom we eat, who was incarnate Emmanuel.

This train of thought has brought clarity to me about a teaching of the Church for which I hadn’t understood the purpose until now. The teaching is stated with precision in paragraph 1374 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but the passage I’m focused on is a quotation from the Council of Trent. It reads:

The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as “the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend.” In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” “This presence is called ‘real’ – by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.”

Why mention this list of body & blood, soul & divinity? It can sound like we’re worried about missing something on a list, like one of the ingredients will be overlooked (flour & baking soda, milk & eggs). But in light of the language of union we have been engaging here, I can see this as an affirmation of connection, not a listing of discrete units. The Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ form one indivisible Person, and must be found together. They make up the one in whom we participate, and for full participation all elements of Christ must be affirmed present in the Eucharist. Fr. Cantalamessa summarizes them thus:

The word body does not so much indicate a metaphysical component of humanity as a state of life, and that is to say, life lived in the body. It indicates the whole person … In the Eucharist the word body designates Christ in his servant state, distinguished by possibility, poverty, the Cross…The same can be said for the word blood. It does not indicate a part of a part of a human being (blood is part of the body!) but an event: it indicates death. Not any kind of death but a violent one, and in the words of the covenant, an expiatory death (Ex 24.8).

This is an important consequence: there is no moment or experience in Christ’s life that we cannot re-live and share in Communion; in fact, his whole life is present and given in his Body and Blood.  In the Eucharist we are “bodied and blooded with Christ,” as a friend of mine translates Cyril of Jerusalem’s language. And Christ is man and God inseparable, so we do not just receive his soul, and we do not just receive his divinity, but rather his soul and divinity are both present. What is present (truly, really, and substantially) is the whole Christ: body and blood, soul and divinity. It is as if he says “Take this and become what I am; attach these sacred elements to yourself to become like me. You will be one flesh with me.”  We are in union with the full Christ, since he is fully human (body and blood) in hypostatic union with a divine nature (soul and divinity).

This is what I think it means to say the Eucharist makes the Church. The Eucharistic union feeds the life of Christ within us since baptism. Another one of Paul’s en Christo phrases says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” [2Cor.5.17] To say the Eucharist makes the Church is another way of saying Christ makes a new creation out of us when he feeds us himself. And this has a couple consequences on the doctrines of transubstantiation, and sacrifice of the mass, and the role of the Holy Spirit that I only have time to briefly touch upon.  I will continue with this tomorrow.

[i] Taken from Jules Gross, The Divinization of the Christian According to the Greek Fathers (A&C Press, Annaheim California, 2002; originally published 1938 as La divinization du chretien d’apres les peres grecs), p 204.

[ii] Gross, p 185.

[iii] Confessions book 7, ch 10. The last line is a mix of Chadwick’s translation and online.

Living Christ’s Life by Sacrament (Part 2): The Church is a Mystery

David Fagerberg, PhD

Associate Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

Senior Advisor of NDCL, Co-editor of Oblation

Contact Author

The second of a four part series on Living Christ’s Life by Sacrament originally delivered at the South Bend-Fort Wayne Eucharistic Congress in 2007.

Part I

The story of Paul’s experience of the Mystical Body is well known, but sometimes we overlook it. Paul was persecuting the Church in his earlier identity as the Pharisee Saul, and was on his way to Damascusto round up some Christians there, when he had a blinding encounter. I continue the narrative from Fr. Emile Mersch’s book, The Whole Christ.

He heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’

But he said, “who are you, Lord?”

And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you persecute.”

The words are clear, like the flash that blinded Paul and as direct as a blow. There is no commentary, no attenuation. Paul bore a grievance against the Church, and he was persecuting these men and women who placed all their hope in a certain Jesus: his hand was already lifted to seize them. And lo! They are no longer only themselves, but Christ! Another has taken their place, and, rising among them, or rather, within them, confronts Saul. … [p 80]

Paul thought he was persecuting a group of people – the Jesus club, if you will – and the voice from heaven accused him, instead, of persecuting the very Son of God. There was a more mystical connection between the Christian and the Christ than Paul could imagine before his blinding illumination. What was it? In Mersch’s words, again: “the faithful possess Christ within them. Paul sees them as temples in which Christ dwells. Since that day, when he saw Christ in the Church which he was persecuting, it seems that he can no longer look into the eyes of a Christian without meeting there the gaze of Christ.” [p 104]

Mersch says that Paul uses the phrase en Christo (in Christ) 164 times his writings, and I have taken his word for it without counting them myself. But even a quick internet concordance search brings up a sampling:

From Romans:

  • 6.11:  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
  • Rom. 8.1:  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
  • Rom. 12.5:  so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

From Corinthians

  • 1Cor. 1.2:  To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus,
  • 2Cor. 5.17:  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
  • 2Cor. 13.5:  Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? —

From his other pastoral letters

  • Gal. 3.26:  for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
  • Eph. 2.10:  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
  • Phil. 2.5      Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
  • 1Thess. 2.14           For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are inJudea.
  • 2Tim. 2.1    You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus…

To be a Christian is to be in Christ. The union is more than an historical union, like I have with George Washington; it is more than a philosophical union, like I have with Socrates; it is more than an imaginative union, like I have with Aslan; it is more than an idealistic union, like I have with fellow members of my club. This is a mystical and sacramental union. Both the Christian and the Church must be understood mystically and sacramentally.

Theological vocabulary has worked this out with some precise terminology that distinguishes “moral union” from “physical union.” I borrow an explanation from Matthias Scheeben in his classic, The Mysteries of Christianity.

Physis is the Greek word we want to understand, and Scheeben peels back layers of meaning.

– its background meaning is birth; it means begetting something (phyesthai)

– so it can mean the begetting principle, or that power which can beget something

– more exactly, it signifies what the begetter communicates to the begotten by generation (e.g. a puppy has the same physis as the dog that gave birth to it)

– Therefore physis denotes the essential, vital form that is capable of being communicated (this isn’t “form” as in “shape;” it refers to what makes the thing what it is. The puppy’s physis makes it a dog and not a cat)

– to go one more level, it means the principle of motion which makes the thing act like the thing it is (the physis of the puppy is to chase its tail and yap happily when you come home).

Now, physis makes you think of our English word “physical,” but I trust you notice a difference between the meaning Scheeben just outlined and the one we commonly give the word today. Physis doesn’t mean physical in the sense of material and bodily. Rather, physis has to do with essence and powers and vital forms. And therefore the philosophers made a distinction between a “moral union” and a “physical union.” The former is a union that comes from one thing exerting an influence on the other; the latter is a union at the level of the physis. A moral union is simply the development of the natural powers a being already has, but a physical union is one in which the powers of x are found in y.

Enough Greek? I can switch to Latin. Physis equals Natura. What I have been talking about all along here is the “nature” of a puppy – that principle that makes a puppy what it is, and begets other puppies of the same nature, and is capable of being communicated when a dog has a litter.

I can now repeat my opening illustration using this precise theological terminology, if the vocabulary has picked up meaning. The Church is not the Jesus club because we do not simply have a moral union with Christ. He is more than an influence on us, the way my fifth grade teacher was an influence on me, or my best friend, or even my mother and father. “Moral”, from moralis, means a form of behavior, a disposition, that which pertains to manners, and my union with Christ is more than his influence on my behavior (though not less than that). In the words of C. S. Lewis,

[M]ere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now .… God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man. It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better but like turning a horse into a winged creature. [i]

We have rather a physical union with Christ: a union in which we participate in his physis. Consider 2 Peter 1, verses 3-4:

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness … Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature.

Of course, this does not mean we change into deities ourselves. We do not lose our human nature. But the Gospel says that when the Son assumed our human nature, his divine nature deified the human nature which he had assumed. And our personal deification is caused by participation in this incarnate God-Man’s hypostatic union. “Some of the Fathers likened this deification to iron in a fire: while it is in the fire, the iron glows red hot, possessing heat ‘by the grace’ of the fire, so to speak, which is of another nature. The iron does not possess this heat of itself, for if it is withdrawn from the fire it loses this quality. But as long as it remains in the fire it enjoys heat as if it were its own.” [Aidan Hart [ii]]

Living Christ’s Life by Sacrament (Part 1): The Church is Not a Club

David Fagerberg, PhD

Associate Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

Senior Advisor of NDCL, Co-editor of Oblation

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The first of a four part series on Living Christ’s Life by Sacrament originally delivered at the South Bend-Fort Wayne Eucharistic Congress in 2007.

What in fact is a Christian? Another Christ, is the reply given by tradition. The sacraments are not just rituals that bestow grace from afar, they are contact through the Holy Spirit with Christ’s own divine-human life so that we can “become by grace what he is by nature”.  In the Eucharist especially, Christ’s divine life is shared with us.  In this series, I will explore the Eucharistic doctrines of sacrifice and transubstantiation from the perspective of deification.

In this first column, I would like to speak this morning about a coordinated relationship between the Christian, the Eucharist, and the Church. My hypothesis is simply stated: God became human so that human beings might be deified. This explains the existence of the Church, and provides the definition of the Christian. Only with the Eucharist at the heart of the Church do we arrive at an adequate understanding of the Church and ourselves.

Let me begin by means of a contrast. I will start with a via negative that will draw a boundary of exclusion around my intended definition of Church and say first what it is not.

One of the memories of childhood that I am guessing everyone shares in some capacity or another is the memory of making clubs. At my even having made the reference, I hope your mind’s eye may at this moment be going up a ladder into a fort at the top of the tree, or down a meandering trail to a clearing that lay deep in the woods, or into the basement where, underneath a blanket over a clothesline, there were stockpiled treasures. Most clubs organize around some interest, the way a pearl organizes around a grain of sand, and so Spanky and his gang had the “He-man women-hater’s club,” or there might be a radio-controlled airplane club that meets after junior high, and what senior high school didn’t have a chess club? One can overhear the seeds of that club being sown at the lunch table: “You like chess? Why, I like chess, too. We should get together and form a chess club.”

Now it is from this club mentality that I want to abruptly jerk you back. This is not how the Church came to be. The Church did not come into existence when Peter said to James and John, “You liked Jesus? Why, I liked Jesus, too. We should get together and form a church.”  The Church is not the Jesus club. The Church is different because its beginning and its end is supernatural. Its beginning is Christ, its end is theKingdom of God when the Son will place all creation at the feet of the Father.

If we don’t define the Church as a club, its more adequate definition is to say it is a mystical body. So summarized Pope Pius XII in his 1943 encyclical Mystici Corporus Christi (On the Mystical Body of Christ). Throughout the document he identifies various schools of thought that have difficulty with this concept. One he calls “false rationalism, which ridicules anything that transcends and defies the power of human genius.”  [para 9] It is accompanied by a similar error called “naturalism, which sees and wills to see in the Church nothing but a juridical and social union.” [para 9] In other words, these miss the true identity of the Church because they consider it a juridical and social union deriving from the power of human genius, and that is not sufficient. There is yet another error on the opposite side of the mountain. This paints the Church with such a mystical hue that it does not seem to really dwell on earth; it thinks the Church is a future work of God. Those who think of the Church in such spiritual terms “arbitrarily claim that the Church is something hidden and invisible” [para 64].

The one position fails to see the Church as a mystical body, while the other fails to see the Church as a mystical body. In the one case, the Church is one more organization, with one more philosophy, and I become a member of the organization by buying into the philosophy. In the other case, the Church is an ethereal future hoped for, but without tangible, political, and social form today. Pius XII takes both to task. “We think, how grievously they err who arbitrarily claim that the Church is something hidden and invisible, as they also do who look upon her as a mere human institution possessing a certain disciplinary code and external ritual, but lacking power to communicate supernatural life.” [para 64] The Church is neither a club of our human construction, nor a force which hovers above our heads without a real presence on the planet.

I propose that the Eucharist serves as a corrective to these faulty images, and will help us to understand the Church as mystical body, and ourselves as her members. Our ecclesiology (our doctrine of the Church) will therefore be tied to soteriology (a teaching about how we are saved), and soteriology is simply Christology-in-motion. It was the Orthodox theologian Georges Florovsky who said “the doctrine of the Church itself is but an ‘extended Christology’, the doctrine of the ‘total Christ’…[i]  So to understand the mysteries of the Church, I propose beginning with Christ as the central Mystery of the Church. And whereas the Holy Father declared June 2008 – June 2009 as a Year of St. Paul, commemorating the 2000 anniversary of his birth, I thought we might use Paul’s approach to Christ as source of the mystery of the Church.  We will continue this reflection tomorrow with an analysis of Emile Mersch and Matthias Scheeben on an incarnational eccelesiology.

[i] Fr. Georges Florovsky, “The Ever-Virgin Mother,” in The Mother of God, a Symposium, ed. E. L. Mascall (Westminster: Dacre Press,, 1959) 52.

Theology and Healing: A Catechesis for the Catholic University

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Liturgy and Evangelization

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Last year, in the midst of the controversy surrounding the bishop’s response to Sr. Elizabeth Johnson’s The Quest for the Living God, an argument was introduced by theologians amenable to Johnson’s work:  namely, the theologian seeks to break new ground through pushing the bounds of research, not to be “catechetical.”  In fact, when Cardinal Wuerl proffered that every theologian, particularly today, ought to consider his or her catechetical responsibility in the classroom, there was widespread rejection of his claim by an array of theologians.

This argument against the catechetical nature of theology is by no means new.  Theologians tend to perceive catechetics as a form of indoctrination inappropriate to the life of the pluralistic, contemporary university (Catholic or not).  Because of the nature of theology in this pluralistic context, or so the argument goes, the theologian must teach skills such as critical thinking, close reading of texts, and basic biblical and theological literacy.  A fostering of the life of faith is the responsibility for the campus minister.  The serious business of the classroom is no place for catechesis.

Of course, this argument is wrought with problems.  The most serious being that it divides the human person into an artificial dualism.  The classroom is intended for the intellectual development of the student.  The chapel for the spiritual.  In fact, there is only one “person”, and the undergraduate immersed in Augustine’s Confessions, in the Book of Job, or in Gustavo Gutiérrez’ We Drink From Our Own Wells has spiritual concerns, as well as intellectual.  Indeed, a critical reading of Augustine’s Confessions (one should note that critical means discerning, not suspicious) will include an evaluation of his biblical exegesis vis-a-vis his own narrative.  Of the form of the text.  Of its historical truth value.  But many students will not cease here; nor did Augustine imagine that they would.  They will ask the same questions that he did.  They will delight in the language that Augustine uses.  They will find themselves discerning how their own practice of theology might become an act of prayer.  And they will wonder why their own notions of God are so small compared to the ones considered by Augustine of Hippo.

In fact, what is most shocking about the debate in theology is that no decent English professor would teach Shakespeare only using a historical-critical method.  The professor would ask the student to try on Shakespeare’s language, delve into the poetry, seek to comprehend the complex characterization, practice iambic pentameter, etc.  And the really fine English professor (see Martha Nussbaum’s Love’s Knowledge:  Essays on Philosophy and Literature) would hope that the themes of Shakespeare would shape a life.  Why not also with theology?

In fact, the undergraduate at a Catholic University is ripe for a catechetical theology.  Most undergraduate students know next to nothing about the basics of Catholic faith.  They have never read a full book of the Bible.  They can’t tell you why it matters that God is Triune or that Christ is fully human and fully divine.  And if they do know something, it’s often wrong.

Further, Catholic students want to know the depths of their tradition.  This semester I taught a one-credit, catechetical course on the Eucharist to undergraduates on the Eucharist.  It was basic.  It was simple.  It was mystagogical.  And I could see the wonder in their eyes, as they recognized that to lift up your hearts meant to offer your entire being in the act of prayer.  As they began to perceive that their whole lives are meant to be brought to the Eucharist.  And that transubstantiation is not simply a benign, incomprehensible doctrine of the Church.  Instead, transubstantiation reminds us that what takes place in the Eucharist requires nothing less than an act of faith, for the senses have failed, to quote the Eucharistic hymn of Aquinas.  They used their memory, their understanding, their reason, in the course.  But, I also sought to cultivate their desire, their heart, their very approach to the Eucharistic practice.

And I suppose this is healing to the Catholic undergraduate, who has received so little formation about their faith.  They come to see that this faith is not some archaic, non-intelligent, insipid superstition passed on from the parents meant to control their sexual behavior.  Instead, they see it as reasonable, intelligent, responsible, remarkable way to live a life.  And if the professor actually enjoys teaching in this manner, delighting in this formation, then the student is given permission to also delight in what they study.  To grasp a key fact:  the theological classroom can inspire a way of theological seeking that will last a lifetime.

My favorite moment in my own practice of a catechetical theology this year was in a course on theological imagination.  Students had never seriously encountered the central Christian teaching of Christ’s descent into the dead.  Yet, when they began to consider that Jesus Christ (fully human and fully divine) entered into the loneliness of Sheol as an act of total self-giving love, a revelation took place.  If the God-person, Jesus Christ, would descend even there, then will he not descend into the hellish places of my life?  Into my eating disorder?  Into my loneliness?  Into my addiction?  If a Catholic University cannot teach undergraduate theology in this way, then why teach it at all?

Of course, what about the non-Christian or non-Catholic student.  To be honest, I have found these students to be most interested in a catechetical approach to theology.  They want to know what the Catholic Church teaches, believes, practices.  As one of my non-Catholic students told me, she wants to be in a place where faith is taken seriously; where she can engage her roommates in conversations about the ultimate meaning of life.  And she came to Notre Dame from a predominantly Muslim country because of the Catholic identity of this place.  She wants to study theology as a Catholic might, because she wants to grasp the depths of the tradition, to communicate with her classmates, to gain insight into this tradition.

There are dangers to saying that the theology classroom is a place for a catechesis of healing.  Theology can never be indoctrination; of course, nor should catechesis be this either.  In addition, the catechetical quality of theology mean that the intellect must be spared.  In fact, a catechetical theology might re-inspire catechesis across the board to reconsider the “intellectual” nature of the task at hand.  If theologians are so quick to dismiss catechesis, perhaps the catechist is at least partially to blame–too willing to turn to an examination of life and too slow to do the hard work of faith seeking understanding.

In conclusion, I perceive my work as a catechetical theologian to be medicinal, an act of healing.  To show the students that the intellectual life is intrinsically connected to the spiritual life.  That the specifics of Catholic faith (which they’ve never learned) could capacitate a person for an authentic, even divine life in the world.  And for the student who has no interest in faith, I demand at least, that they stand where a believer might stand.  For Catholic theology makes little sense without faith, just as scientific inquiry is incomplete without the desire to know or the study of literature is inadequate without an appreciation for language.  In this way, the Catholic University that teaches a catechetical theology becomes a source of religious healing for the world.  The University shows that belief and intellect are never competing forces.  Instead, belief elevates, perfects the intellect, making it capable of theological discovery that critical thinking alone cannot discern.

Happy, Happy Friday: You Shall Not Put the Lord Your God to the Test (March 16)

Laura McCarty

Notre Dame Alumna, Class of 2011

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PRELUDIO: So folks, in honor of the fact that (to borrow from the old horrible SAT analogies) ‘Friday’ is to ‘GLORIOUS’ as ‘hitting a traffic light as it turns green so you don’t have to slow down’ is to ‘feeling kind of like James Bond’, here’s a piece of truly uplifting music.  Simple but awesome:

And since that piece of African music was pretty short, here’s another brightly shining gem:



So I know that everyone grieved at the lack of prattling last week, so now YOU can feel the same way that people did when they brought back those plastic Kool-Aid bottles with the faces on them: you know, the ones that were big in the 90’s and were liquid sugar (Read: you can feel AWESOME):

Between those things, Sweet Tarts, Pop Tarts, and Pixy Stix, there was a lot of straight-up sugar floating around in the 90’s. Not to mention all of the utterly terrifying Little Debbie products that will outlast a nuclear winter and were all manufactured before I was born. They’ve just been selling the same ones in all of the gas stations for two decades. Now that we’re pondering food that could be buried in a safe at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and still be fine, what about:

-Peeps? These things have always scared me, even when I was a child and could down a McFlurry like it was nothing. Even before I knew that nutrition facts EXISTED, Peeps still had kind of a creepy fascination for me, and you HAD to look at them. They captivated your attention in a slightly repulsive way, like a nature documentary where a Nile crocodile is taking down a wildebeest.

-Jello? Just out of curiosity I read the ingredients list a few days ago in the grocery store: anytime a food has more than seven ingredients that each have more than four syllables (something like ‘Polyunsaturatednuclease’), then it’s time to reconsider and buy some good honest lettuce.

-Pez? What ARE they? Straight-up sugar? Condensed Pixy Stix, cleverly disguised in a Peter Pan dispenser to make you think you’re eating something that’s remotely good for you, like Tums? The world will never know. But they don’t taste half-bad.

-Certain grocery-store brand chocolate chip cookies (and I only say this because last summer, a child I know had these, and I forgot about them for 2 weeks and rediscovered them and they looked EXACTLY THE SAME. It was downright eerie, like I had discovered that they’d been moving around by some mysterious force while I wasn’t looking at them).

And we haven’t even talked about beverages (like Sunny D and Surge) but we need to keep moving along 😉

THE HEART OF THE EMAIL: Or, You Shall Not Put the Lord Your God to the Test

Youtube clip of the week:

All right, friends: so we all know and believe that God can bring goodness and blessings out of even our deepest suffering and our worst mistakes. We can no more negate the progression of His Will for humanity than we can stop the sun in the sky. But we can choose HOW we will serve in His plan, like choosing whether to play the role of Saint John or of Judas. As C.S. Lewis said:

“A man is sometimes entitled to hurt (or even, in my opinion, to kill) his fellow, but only where the necessity is urgent and the good to be obtained is obvious[…]. To turn this into a general charter for afflicting humanity ‘because affliction is good for them’ […] is not indeed to break the Divine scheme but to volunteer for the post of Satan within that scheme. If you do his work, you must be prepared for his wages.”

In the first part of that quote, Lewis is talking about a surgeon or even a parent: someone who is occasionally called upon to cause discomfort or inconvenience (as in parental discipline) or even physical pain (as in surgical procedures) so that the person in their care can ultimately grow and heal to their fullest potential. What Lewis warns against is becoming the sort of person who causes deliberate pain to others, daring God to see if He can work through THAT (like Satan with Job). And of course, God does, but He doesn’t work backwards and erase the evil of the sin or the depth of the pain. He only works the greater miracle and brings blessings and wisdom forth from our pain, even when we don’t understand the ‘why’s’.

Most of us aren’t the types who enjoy causing suffering, so maybe we can feel safe after reading the last paragraph. But there is a more subtle trap that I know from personal experience, and I would hazard a guess that this revelation is not unique to my life. (After all, we’re usually much more alike that we think we are. We’re all human, aren’t we?)

Once we realize that God will work through our decisions regardless of their goodness or conformity to His will, the temptation is to jump for joy like badly behaved children who, knowing that their Father’s will cannot be stopped, feel that they have been given free rein to live however they like. Or even if their conscience keeps them from direct badness, at least it need not twinge at lesser deviations from their Father’s will: He’ll work through it all, right?

Yes, He will, but at what cost to our own souls? At what cost to our relationship to Him, the God who made us for no other purpose than to love Him totally? He will keep on loving us, but what about our own capacity to love Him? What role will we accept in the drama of His humanity: the saint or the tyrant, or perhaps even the noncommittal? He will work through them all, whether or not they will it, but if we are trying to become His, He can do more with us if we give Him more of ourselves to work with, until we are entirely His and His will shines through us perfectly like sunlight through a church window. As Saint Paul said, it will no longer be us, but Christ in us, and in reflecting Him we truly become ourselves.

And what is the alternative? We can gradually develop a grudge towards God for demanding so much of us, and we can feel judged by Scripture until we want to hide from it. If we are not careful, we can give Him less and less of ourselves to work with…until we will give Him nothing, and then He can do nothing within us (except call to us even in our darkest moments). His plan for saving humanity will progress, but will we decline His invitation again and again until the doors are finally shut? Or will we repent our past wrongs and let Him give us the courage to seek a different role within His great and glorious plan: to become humble, to be content with only His love and His recognition, to understand at last that His gaze is the only one that really matters. If we are His, we have everything. Even when we feel like we’ve failed, we can’t stop trying to follow Him: after all, God does not give up on us. His love persists in pursuing us, and we have to decide every day how we will respond. Today is a new day: who will we be today? As Mother Teresa said, “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”

Friends, I know these things aren’t exactly light food for thought, but as C.S. Lewis said, Christianity is either of supreme importance or of no importance at all. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important. We are called to a destiny whose glory and joy we can barely imagine: how will we respond?

I hope your Friday is GLORIOUS, friends, and I send along my



Living the Lenten Life

Katharine E. Harmon, Ph.D.

Instructor, Catholic University of America and Loyola University, Baltimore

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Among the many facets of the liturgical movement, that era prior to the Second Vatican Council which inspired and provided the groundwork for liturgical renewal and reforms, are the delightful recommendations and resources for bringing the liturgy “into the home.”  Particularly following the Second World War, consonant with the American Dream, the American Family, and the idealization of the domestic haven epitomized in scenes from Dobie Gillis to Donna Reed, devotees of the liturgy took up the banner of wholesome American home-life, by bringing the liturgy to…the American kitchen.

Ideas and resources for such ideas came through talks given at national conferences (such as the National Catholic Rural Life Conference), magazines and journals (including Orate Fratres, now Worship), and, of course, cookbooks.  American Catholics took up the task of taking the feasts and seasons of the Church Year and coordinating them to appropriate dinners and meals which could be made for and by the American family:  Mom, Dad, and children from teenagers to toddlers.  The reasoning behind such resources is clear, from the words of Florence Berger, author of Cooking for Christ:

If I am to carry Christ home with me from the altar, I am afraid He will have to come to the kitchen because much of my time is spent there.  I shall welcome Him on Easter and He shall eat new lamb with us.  I shall give homage to Him on Epiphany and shall cook a royal feast for him and my family.  I shall mourn with Him on Holy Thursday and we shall taste the herbs of the Passover and break unleavened bread.  Then the cooking which we do will add special significance to the Church Year and Christ will sanctify our daily bread.  That is what is meant by the liturgical year in the kitchen (Florence Berger, Cooking for Christ:  the Liturgical Year in the Kitchen, “Introduction.”)

As Berger indicates, she saw that one important way of making the liturgical year meaningful to her family was by folding it into activities her family regularly did in places where it usually lived.  Her family ate.  She cooked.  The kitchen was the heart of her home.  If Christ’s eucharist was the food of her and her family’s faith, then should not her own family’s food reflect that eucharist in Christ?

For Lent, then, dishes might reflect qualities of the liturgical year attentive to Lent:  maybe family dishes could be pared down, less decadent desserts, more fish and vegetables.  Lenten dishes might be an opportunity to teach a family the spiritual value of attentiveness to food—though this did not necessitate a diet of cold turnips, boiled scallions and spinach!  One could begin, simply, by making one’s own wheat bread.  As Berger wrote, “Begin it as a penitential act, if you must, an act which may take you away from your bridge game.  I’ll be willing to wager that your family won’t let you stop.  Then in the morning when all your fast allows is dry bread, see how rich and good your own bake will taste” (Berger, Cooking for Christ, 48).

Berger wished to convey how wholesome, balanced meals could actually serve as teaching or spiritual tools, especially for young families, in learning about what this season of preparation actually meant.  Such practices have been adopted by some Catholic families in the present (see, for example, http://catholiccuisine.blogspot.com/).

However, a Lenten spirituality which begins at home might find room to spill out into the wider world of Catholic life.  Lent is a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  These need not be solely individual activities, or even activities confined to the domestic Church of the family.  The Eucharist, we learn in the Second Vatican Council, is both summit and source of our life in Christ.  Just as one’s family life might be pointed to the summit of the Eucharist which we share in liturgy, with even a family’s meals reminding that this is a season different from the others, one’s Eucharistic experience might also be a source for reaching out into the world.

Consonant with the liturgical movement’s interest in a liturgical life which was truly holistic, Lent can also be a time which sends the family outside the self and into the world, beginning with the local parish.  A frequent community event appearing on today’s parish calendars is the parish “soup supper,” a time for parish gathering, prayer, and keeping the Lenten fast—with meatless soups, if on a Friday!  Attending an event as a family, or as a group of friends, might afford time to participate in parish life, and an opportunity to learn to know members of one’s local parish family; in the same way, serving or volunteering at one such parish event can be another fruitful way to consider how Christ is present in more ways than in the one table around which we gather at Mass.

Even further, what if one’s involvement in feeding Christ’s body moved beyond one’s family, or even friends, to perfect strangers?  Taking one’s own Lenten fast as a starting point (you never remember what it’s like to be hungry until you try going hungry yourself), what would come from taking a turn volunteering with the parish’s, the community’s, or the local Catholic Worker’s soup kitchen or food drive?  Would such a feeding simply be a patch for the giant ripping whole of poverty?  Would it only serve as an easy check-mark for one’s particular Lenten journey?  Or might such an experience—whether with family, friends, or religious organization—provide a window into a new way of seeing Jesus?  That each time we say “give us this day our daily bread” or cut or scoop our own peanut butter and jelly, pie-in-a-bowl, or casserole, we might remember this experience of being—not in the clean, easily-defined Body of Christ we hold in our hands or identify in our parish community—but in the messy, frightening, and dangerous world where poverty, the unknown, and the unrested reign?  Christ is no less present there.  And, as we learn from the Gospels, Christ is, perhaps, more present in those places where so many of us—this writer included—are afraid to look.

This leaves our Lenten possibilities wide open:  Lent is not just the liturgy we hear in the collects of our new translation.  Lent is a way of life.  It is the time of life for preparation of our hearts, minds, spirits, for the mystery of Christ.  From the altar-table of the Eucharist to the food at our kitchen tables to the food shared amongst friends and strangers, the liturgical life seeks to unite them, inviting us to live as members of that Body of Christ.