Jesus Lives: The Fifty-Day Fiesta of Basking in the Resurrection’s Glow

Carolyn Pirtle

Director of Music and Elementary Music Instructor

St. John Berchmans Parish, Chicago, IL

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More than once in the past few weeks, I have been asked by fellow parishioners, “How was your Easter?” My reply generally consists of something along the lines of, “It’s still going, and it’s great! Happy Easter!” The person inevitably gives me a weird look, and maybe even makes a worried comment about how I’m spending too many hours working at the parish if we’re still celebrating Easter. Never one to miss the opportunity for a catechetical moment (like a teachable moment but better), I explain that we are, in fact, still celebrating Easter—that it’s a fifty-day fiesta of basking in the glow of Christ’s Resurrected glory. At this point in the conversation, the person may return my “Happy Easter,” but sometimes I get the feeling that he or she still believes that the greeting is completely after-the-fact, and that Easter this year was over on Monday, April 9. It may have been extended in rare cases until the sad day when the last Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg was consumed, but Easter was definitely over by Sunday, April 15.

I think conversations like this are microcosms of a larger liturgical conundrum: how are we supposed to observe the season of Easter? In my personal experience, most Christians are really good at Lent. We pray. We fast. We give alms. We have honed the observance of Lent down to an art form. I often wonder, though, if our ability to fast throughout Lent is equaled by our ability to feast throughout Easter. Year after year, I find myself acutely aware of the fact that I am in the midst of the Lenten season—usually around day 22 when I really start to crave that Diet Coke, or chocolate, or when I really want to hit the snooze button one more time instead of waking up for the early Mass. However, I find that once I’ve journeyed through Holy Week and the incredible celebration that is the Paschal Triduum, I have a much harder time bringing the observance of the Easter season into my daily faith life than I did with Lent.

Why is that? Why is it so much easier to fast for forty days than it is to feast for fifty?  Perhaps it’s because we’ve been so well catechized when it comes to our understanding of Lent as a journey. The Church is making her way from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday and once we finally get there, it’s almost as though we collectively look around from the top of the peak and say to one another, “Whew, that was a great climb. Well, back to reality.” Except that the reality has changed. The reality is that Easter is not the end of the Lenten journey, it’s the culmination of that journey, even the transformation. It’s also beginning of another journey: the journey to Pentecost, when the joy of the Resurrection and Ascension bears fruit in the descent of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church. Just as we journey toward Easter throughout Lent, so too should we journey toward Pentecost throughout Easter, bearing witness to the resurrected Christ all along the way. We are invited to grow even closer to Christ throughout the Easter season, to travel our journey of faith, moving “further up and further in” (in the words of C.S. Lewis) to the glory and promise of the Resurrection, our hearts burning within us each step of the way, so that when we reach Pentecost, they may be fully ignited by the fire of the Holy Spirit and fanned into the blaze Jesus spoke of when He said, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Luke 12:49)

This still begs the question: how are we to continue to celebrate Easter in our daily lives? How are we to witness to the joy of the Resurrection now that Easter Sunday has come and gone?

In my role as Director of Music, I have an invaluable help in maintaining my Easter spirit and encouraging others to do so. For each Sunday of the Easter season, I continue to choose hymns that point specifically to the Resurrection of Jesus. In some instances, general hymns of praise might work just as well with the selected Scripture passages, but it’s important to keep reminding the congregation that we as a Church are still celebrating Easter, still rejoicing in the fact that Christ has triumphed over sin and death forever, and that we are caught up in the promise of life eternal in Jesus our Savior.

Below is the text of a hymn I encountered a few years ago, as well as the link to a video of the Notre Dame Folk Choir performing this piece at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky. Chrysogonus Waddell, OSCO, a monk at Gethsemani, composed this particular setting, which is quietly lovely in its simplicity and yet resounding in its hopefulness. I encourage you to listen to the recording as you read the text, for this is an example of music and text joined together in a beautiful, symbiotic relationship.

The repetition of the statement “Jesus lives” is one that resonates throughout centuries and across continents. This is more than stating that “Jesus rose from the dead,” as though the Resurrection was an isolated, contained event. This hymn reminds us that “Jesus lives,” now and forever. In every moment of every day, Jesus lives. In every struggle and every triumph, Jesus lives. In our dying and in our rising, Jesus lives. May we carry this reality in our hearts throughout this Easter season and throughout our lives so that we may bear witness to the joy of the Resurrection, and the hope of eternal life in Christ.

Jesus Lives

Text by Christian Furchtegott Gellert (1715–1759) from Sacred Hymns from the German, 1864

Music by Chrysogonus Waddell, OCSO (1930–2008)

1.  Jesus lives: thy terrors now

Can, O death, no more appall us;

Jesus lives: by this we know,

Thou, O grave, cannot enthrall us, alleluia.

2.  Jesus lives: henceforth is death

But the gate to life immortal.

This shall calm our trembling breath

When we pass its gloomy portal, alleluia.

3.  Jesus lives: our hearts know well

Naught from us His love shall sever;

Life, nor death, nor pow’rs of hell

Tear us from His keeping ever, alleluia.

4.  Jesus lives: to Him the throne

Over all the world is given.

May we go where He is gone,

Rest and reign with Him in heaven, alleluia.

Happy, Happy Friday: Fences Don’t Always Make Good Neighbors (April 27, 2012)

Laura McCarty

Notre Dame Alumna, Class of 2011

Contact Author

 

PRELUDIO: OK, people: I hope the beautiful chords and harmonies of this piece just sweep you off your feet (really, folks. Are you ready to fall to your knees and thank God for all of the random teeny bones and stuff that makes you able to hear music like this, even though memorizing all of those parts in the 5th grade was annoying?):

Anyhoo, people, HAPPY FRIDAY!!!

HOLA PEOPLES!!!,

First off, this must be shared with as much of the world as possible: there is a street in my hometown named “Lois Lane”. HOW SNARKY IS THAT? I guess if you lived there, you’d get lambasted with superhero references all the time, but it’d be worth it for the US Postal Service to wonder if all of the people sending mail to your house address were just being wiseacres.

Just because I was curious, I looked up other weird street names: wouldn’t it be GRAND to live on one of these, people? Even though no one would ever believe that you really lived there:

-Drury Lane, CT (YES, I was hoping this one was real!! Even though questions about the muffin man would get hateful after awhile…)

-Big Mama Drive, MS (This street sounds like it was named after a chain of fried-chicken restaurants).

-Tapeworm Rd., PA (I guess they were tired of naming streets after songbirds)

-Chicken Gristle Rd., TX (only in Texas. Actually, only south of the Mason-Dixon line, even though there’s the South…and then there’s Texas).

-This Ain’t It Rd., AL (pretty self-explanatory)

-Tater Peeler Rd., TN (God bless kitchen utensils and Tennessee)

Anyhoo, we can keep on moving along 😉

THE HEART OF THE EMAIL: Or, Fences Don’t Always Make Good Neighbors

Youtube clip of the week:

And a beautiful quote, courtesy of a dear friend:

It is not thou that shapest God
It is God that shapest thee.
If then, thou art the work of God,
Await the hand of the Artist who does
All things in due season.
Offer Him thy heart,
Soft and tractable and keep the form
In which the artist has fashioned thee.
Let the clay be moist
Lest thou grow hard
And lose the imprint of His fingers.–St. Irenaeus

In some ways, a hard heart can sound appealing, especially if we substitute the word ‘hard’ for words like ‘tough, armored, independent and safeguarded”. After all, our hearts seem to take a lot of abuse over the years: not just the deep, raw wounds caused by the pains within our dearest relationships, but even the minor bruises and jostling of being inconvenienced, irritated, or disappointed by other people. We spend a good amount of time wishing that our hearts WEREN’T so susceptible to being shaped and prodded by our environment, even by our Father’s will. So we spend a lot of time and effort hiding the softness and sensitivity of our own hearts, presenting our toughened and ruggedly independent hearts to the wider world.

The ‘hardened heart’ idea isn’t an all-or-none thing, either: there’s not a hard-and-fast rule saying that one part of our heart is not hardened while another part is. The parts that are still stony are the places in ourselves where we tell God, “Nope, I’m all good here: I can handle THIS part myself. You’re more necessary over there.” So we lead Him over to the vices we would rather be rid of, the things that cause us embarrassment and remind us of our weakness. And He will have those places be tamed and shaped to His will, but He does not will to stop there. In time, unless we resist, He will show us how desperate our need for Him really is…in the places where we dismissed our need for Him. He will show us that the places where we feel strong and virtuous are likewise in deep need of His help.

It’s a lot like the end of Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Revelation” where a rather self-righteous woman has a prophetic vision of a multitude of people en route to Heaven. The people like herself, upstanding and well-to-do citizens, walk in a dignified procession and sing on-key…but the woman sees from the looks on their faces that “even their virtues (are) being burned away.”

As God shows us who we are, we might run into more and more of those hardened places. It’s a bit like finding one part of a fence and seeing how it stretches away in either direction from where we are, enclosing more land than we first imagined. How much have we walled away from God and from others? We seek to hide our weak places from the world and put out the strong and toughened parts of ourselves for everyone to see…but what we often fail to understand is that God can do more work within our weaknesses, because there our heart recognizes its need for His Hand and His artistry. In its weakness it has become soft and open to God’s fingerprints while our ‘virtues’ have hardened under our territorial belief that there, at last, we can stand on our own two feet! We’ve finally gotten something right on our own, right?

But pride and belief in our self-sufficiency stiffens our virtues against God’s Hands. It is there, in the places where we least feel the need for God, where we most feel like kings rather than beggars, where He is most desperately needed. Those fences we have put up against Him must come down. What will He do once we allow Him into those walled fortresses in our hearts, allow Him to make vulnerable and weak those places where we once felt the strongest and most sure of ourselves? The details of His movement and His artistry will have to be a surprise, but we have to trust that His work will be a masterpiece. He will have to clear away our own poor and feeble attempts to become holy on our own terms, but neither will He force open the door to the places where we fear His presence. We have to ask, every day and always, for the grace to trust in His skill, His vision for us, and His love. Our strengths as well as our weaknesses will be humbled before God so that He might make the whole person perfect.

God bless you, folks J and I send along to each a yall

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

Laura

Benedictine Spirituality as Integral to Liturgical Formation

The Notre Dame Center for Liturgy is pleased to make available a series by Prof. Maxwell Johnson, of the University of Notre Dame’s theology department, on Benedictine Spirituality.  This is part of our new initiative in liturgical spirituality.  In coming months, these videos will also be included in an ICL Conversation, with additional reading in Benedictine theology.

Happy, Happy Friday: When God Ran (April 13, 2012)

Laura McCarty

Notre Dame Alumna, Class of 2011

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PRELUDIO: OK, people: so this is PROOF that whatever random interest or hobby you have (whether it be dancing to Yiddish folk music, collecting antique yo-yos or knitting long underwear) somewhere out there there’s someone like YOU (and thanks to the friend who introduced me to the coolness of Trace Bundy ;)):

I don’t really know how sound is coming out of those guitars since they’re just playing the strings, but hey, there’s plenty of things I don’t understand (like how the electric slide was invented or how every school-child raised in the 90’s knows the SAME jump-rope songs even when they grew up in different U.S. states)  and that’s okay. It’s a good thing for the world to have a few mysteries left, right? Anyhoo, HAPPY HAPPY FRIDAY, PEOPLE!!!

HOLA, PEOPLES!!!,

So chances are that most people on this email have heard Pachelbel’s Canon at least 18 times in their life already: it’s kind of like the ‘classy music’ go-to, I guess, with weddings and fancy hotel lobbies and the occasional car commercial. It’s like, you could advertise it like you advertise for Bowflex machines:

-NEED SOMETHING TO ‘CLASSY-IZE’ YOUR GATHERING/ADVERTISEMENT FOR THAT THING THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH CLASSICAL MUSIC? NEED TO CONNECT WITH AN AUDIENCE THAT WANTS TO FEEL CLASSY BUT DOESN’T KNOW ANY CLASSICAL MUSIC EXCEPT FOR THAT ONE CREEPY ORGAN PIECE THAT’S ALWAYS PLAYED AROUND HALLOWEEN? SEARCH NO LONGER!! PACHELBEL IS FOR YOU!!

(actually, that format could work well for other things, in a more abbreviated form otherwise you people will be reading this email till you’re as old as Moses):

-NEED TO REDEEM A MEANDERING STORY WITHOUT A CLEAR CONCLUSION? TRY ‘AND THEN I FOUND FIVE DOLLARS.’

-NEED TO FIND OUT WHERE CARMEN SANDIAGO OR WALDO IS? TRY ASKING CHUCK NORRIS.

-NEED TO FIND A HOBBY THAT’S UNIQUE ENOUGH TO WRITE ABOUT FOR A COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY? TRY UNICYCLE JOUSTING.

-NEED TO FIND A PET NAME THAT WILL STUMP THE PEOPLE AT THE VET? TRY A NAME COMPRISED ENTIRELY OF CONSONANTS, LIKE ‘YRMSGSTFF’.

Anyhoo, folks, we can keep moving along 😉

THE HEART OF THE EMAIL: Or, When God Ran

Youtube clip of the week:

OK, folks: so a few years back, I and a bunch of other college kids were preparing to travel out to Washington D.C. where we’d spend some time with adults who had a range of disabilities. Before we left campus we learned about ‘person-first’ language, where we didn’t talk about disabled or handicapped people: instead, we said ‘people with disabilities’.

If this sounds like nitpicking over language technicalities, wait a second. First of all, how else would we get anything important done in the English language if we weren’t choosy with our words? We don’t say ‘cancerous people’, we say ‘people with cancer.’ It’s said that way so that the adjective doesn’t define the noun, so to speak: it’s only a part of the whole. The person’s identity transcends their disability or their cancer or whatever other example you can imagine. We can’t give the adjective more room to define us than it deserves.

Well, couldn’t we see our weaknesses and shortcomings in a similar light? A friend of mine once pointed out how often we say we are ‘proud people’ or ‘jealous people’ or even ‘failures’, as if that one part of ourselves was so important that it deserved to be out there in front of the nouns and decide our whole identity (as if we were jealous all day long rather than jealous in certain situations). Is any part of our brokenness so important in the long run that we can use it to define ourselves? Maybe if we were lost causes of some sort, or if that weakness had completely won its victory over us. But friends, it HASN’T. We aren’t beaten because God isn’t beaten!! If we feel like we’ve given up on ourselves, God has not given up on us. He looks at us and sees more than our wounds and weaknesses. He doesn’t overlook our flaws, but He hates the sin, loves the sinner, and strives for the sinner’s freedom. The reason He wants the sin gone is because He longs for the sinner to be whole.

If we look at ourselves as failures rather than as people who sometimes fail, then we are not seeing ourselves as God sees us. Like the doctor who’s working for our cure, He does not dismiss us as people consumed and defined by our brokenness and our ‘spiritual cancers’: He sees the places in us that fall short of perfection, but always He sees US. He doesn’t miss the forest for the trees, even the trees that do not yet bear fruit as they shall someday (God willing.)

Friends, we sometimes dismiss ourselves as failures or as lost causes, but God does not dismiss us in that way or any way. He sees us as a people with an illness that, if not cared for constantly, will develop into something worse. But even in the worst cases of that illness, He does not give up: He is tireless in His efforts to cure us, until our last breath. If God Himself does not dismiss you, try not to be harder on yourself than He is on you. We cannot forgive less easily than He forgives, because though He demands perfection, He desires mercy at the slightest repentance on our part. We take one halting step at a time even as He runs to gather us into our true Home forever. We tear ourselves apart with despair over our sins even as He calls for us to stop and not further the damage that sin has already wrought within us. Our God, infinite and awe-inspiring and mysterious though He be, does not hesitate to stoop down to reach us, telling us with His love that not all hope is lost.

Friends, I hope that we can all be free from the temptation to define ourselves by our brokenness: though it is a burden of our present life, in God we trust that our illness will someday be healed and that for the first time EVER, we will know what it is to be fully cured. He does not give up on us, even when we give up on ourselves. He loves us that much.

And I hope your Fridays are so blessed, folks :), and I send along to each a yall my

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

Laura

Finding Christ on the Metro

Katharine E. Harmon, Ph.D.

Instructor, Catholic University of America and Loyola University, Baltimore

Contact Author

Not long ago, I had opportunity to take a unique tour with a friend from Louisville, KY.  The tour had several highlights, but, for me, its heart lay in one stop:  on the corner of 4th and Walnut, that space where Fr. Louis, or Thomas Merton, stood one bright afternoon and saw all the people, walking, shining like the sun.

Living in a crowded metro area and surviving as a novice of public transit, I’ve begun to draw on those words of the saint (I mean Merton) for a bit of peace and hope.  For a native Hoosier (that means I was born in Indiana), more than 20 people within view, let alone the mobs of public transit, is a somewhat shocking experience.  Yet, as days have run into months, I’ve turned into one of that shocking mob:  darting along with a rush of people, who find each other invisible, each one a molecule maintaining an invisible force field around it.  Each of us slides past the other without eye contact or speech—only speaking when someone bumping into another or walking too slowly causes a spark.  I horrify myself with my adaptability.

Though I’ve become more practiced, I haven’t grown less troubled by this anonymous and somewhat inhuman (it seems to me) phenomenon of simply getting where we need to be.  Occasionally, of late, I’ve attempted to draw myself out of this faceless vortex by remembering those words of Thomas Merton:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. …  And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun (Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Image Books:  2009), 155.)

Only occasionally have I been successful in convincing myself.

But, when I stood on that one, particular street corner in Louisville, my memories of a swarming dark and dank metro subway were suddenly shaken out onto a new plane.  I tried to imagine exactly how Thomas felt, looking up that busy shopping street.  I did not physically see the people in front of me shining bright with light, but, for that brief moment, on that corner, I believed that they were.

What did this mean for me?  What does it mean for anyone to stand in the place of the saints?  Do we begin to see as they saw?  Think as they did?  We usually look at saints on the walls, or in the windows, or maybe we use them as bookmarks.  They mean to inspire us to holier lives.  Yet they are a bit removed for most of us, even when we wear them around our necks.  This is the problem with the saints for us modern Catholics—we, or at least I, feel the saints are something other than what we are.  We may be impressed by them, but we seldom walk in their ways.

Maybe our awe with the embodiment of the saints should push beyond the devotions or the pilgrimage sights, the wearing of the medals—as laudable and spiritually enriching as these actions are.  We are right, the saints are something other than we are—in that they tried their hardest through their human lives to be the best they could be.  Their best—was walking in Jesus’ ways.  They knew that Jesus walked, spoke, prayed, healed, forgave, and worked.  Even in crowded places.

The saints’ bodies are like our bodies—ones which bend, which kneel, which tire, which sit, and cook, and clean, and travel, and organize.  The saints are more than holy cards and medals.  We not only seek to identify with their spiritual orientation in the abstract; but their spiritual orientation in the world.  The saints sought to be as Christ in the world in all ways:  in their embrace of their work, their walking, their standing on a street corner, in their loving others intensely.

Thomas Merton did something simple—he stopped, he looked up, and he loved.  What a simple and yet impossibly challenging task:  to tear oneself away from one’s self to look into someone’s eyes—acknowledge that someone’s humanity—and love.

For me, looking into someone’s eyes on a crowded subway car may not be the best choice.  But choosing to love, not to walk with apathy and ignorance of the other, seems only to be a good choice.  Even if getting on and off a train successfully requires that I quietly slink along like a silent part of a machine, doing my best to keep quiet and not bother others, I might change my attitude and embrace the other, pray for the stressed one, let the hurried one go in front.  Such a change of heart might be one step toward walking as Thomas walked—and as did Christ.  As I move with thousands of other silent molecules through dark tunnels and over soaring sun-pierced platforms, I might move myself from the death of lackluster self-absorption, into the bright Easter light of Christ.  Loving, as Christ loved, as the saints loved, each one—the strangers—shining all around me.

Amen and Amen: The Body of Christ and Self-Care

Anna Adams, M.Div., M.T.S. Candidate

University of Notre Dame

Doctoral Student in Liturgical Studies at Notre Dame beginning in Fall ’12

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In his Mystagogical homily to the newly baptized St. Augustine writes, “At communion, the priest says, ‘the Body of Christ” and you reply ‘Amen.’ When you say ‘Amen,’ you are saying yes to what you are” (s. 272).  I along with many of my classmates emerged from Duke Divinity’s Anglo-Catholic cocoon with a theology of real presence beautifully encapsulated by Augustine’s homiletic instruction. We learned to relish the ambiguity of offering the bread to communicants, as we look them in the eye saying, “The body of Christ.” We explain to anyone who will listen how we encounter Christ’s body present in the bread and wine and in each congregant to whom we offer the host. It’s all lovely, theologically speaking.

Coming to Notre Dame from my M.Div. at Duke, I continued the practice of daily communion begun at DDS. Most days I find time to call a halt to work and head to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the heart of Notre Dame’s campus for a Mass. One cold morning during exams I dumped my depleted body into the pew, only partially prepared for participating in the liturgy. I let the mass carry me along as I battled a fatigued mind and empty stomach. At the end of the mass I realized, much to my dismay, that there would be a Eucharistic procession to wait through before I could return to the library. I mentally hurried the celebrant as he painstaking donned the humeral veil, slowly lifted the host and processed it around the basilica, before ever so carefully placing it into an ornate monstrance. As he finally reached the rear altar and lifted the monstrance releasing me to a quick departure, I thought bitterly, “too bad my Body of Christ never gets love like that.”

I wish I could say I stopped right there, repented, and parked myself in the pew for a long prayer. I wish I could say I went to get lunch and a long nap before logging hours in the library. Sadly, It took me three all-nighters, a terrible cold, and a priest-friend demanding that I take medicine and care for myself before I caught my own irony.  But ever since that moment, I can’t stop noticing the disjunction between my nosebleed high theology of real presence and abysmal practical theology of caring Christ’s image in my own body and the bodies around me. Each day I genuflect to the body of Christ, present in bread and wine and pray to receive Christ into myself. Yet I deprive the very body receiving Christ of sleep, food, medicine, rest, and care, and do all that under the auspices of faithfulness to God’s call.

I fear I’m not alone. For all of popular Christianity’s recent emphasis on ‘self care,’ an iconoclasm of self, produced by undisciplined zeal, continues plaguing pastoral personalities. We talk, preach, and write about the beauty of Christ’s body and blood, yet starve, exhaust, and disregard those same Christ-bearing bodies to “care” for parishioners, students, children, and friends. Pastors and teachers, run-ragged and overworked, pine for deeper realization of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist that would bring about seismic shifts in the lives of parishioners, when congregants and students yearn for mystagogical models– pastors and teachers, parents and friends– who take seriously caring for their own bodies of Christ.

The notion of self-care can smack of overindulgence and be hard to swallow for people trained to serve. But when we look at our Eucharistic practices of care for Christ’s body on the altar, we cannot escape the call to care for Christ in us.  And lest we get a God-complex, we might start by holding before ourselves the glorious Jesus of John’s gospel- in all his sleeping, eating, weeping humanity. Perhaps we do better to hold ourselves accountable to Christ-care: the cultivation of the image of Christ in our bodies. As a people who confect, ingest, and bear forth Christ eucharistically, we live on the broken edge of humanity’s transformation into that same sleeping, eating, weeping, now glorified, nature.

Self-care might be a good New Years resolution, but when we all inevitably fail I’m afraid the temptation to quit and return to the easier, if somewhat warped and undisciplined, service of God’s people might prove too enticing. Instead, as we celebrate the feast of the baptism of Jesus, in whom God’s pleasure rests, let us pray for a renewed covenant of caring for Christ in us. When we give and receive the body of Christ in the Eucharist, let us pray for eyes to see there a reflection of Christ maturing in our own bodies and the bodies of our brothers and sisters. And as we utter the ‘great amen’ at the conclusion of the Great Thanksgiving, let us pray for alignment of our theology of real presence and embodied theology, and learn to give thanks for “our own mystery which is placed up

 

A Letter to the Neophytes (and those of us now changed by your presence…)

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

Contact Author

Dear neophytes,

Welcome to the Church.  Last Saturday night, you were plunged into the waters of the Jordan River, you were sealed with the chrism of the Spirit, and you tasted the sweetness of the bread of heaven. Your eating of Christ’ body and blood in the Eucharist is an action you will perform again and again.  Or more accurately, an action that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit will perform upon you.  Let every time you eat and drink the flesh and blood of Christ, bring you back to this night.

Now for some membership details.  When you join a club, it’s best to present the “obligations” of membership at the beginning.  And indeed, we did.  Practice self-giving love unto death.  But now that you have tasted the full gift of this love in the sacraments, perhaps it would be helpful to expand upon this prescription for the benefit of our newer members (and of course, for those of us, who tend to forget our single, salvific prescription).

For as we learned over the course of the Triduum, the Church is not actually a club.  It’s not common-minded folks, gathering together out of a sense of greater purpose.  We’re not the Lyons Club, the Varsity Club, the Country Club (though sometimes we’re tempted to imitate all three).  We’re an experiment, initiated by the Triune God, intended to transform humanity through the suasive pull of divine love.  A love that has been revealed to us in creation; in the covenant; in our worship at the temple; in the caustic though salutary words of the prophets; in our tears on the banks of the Babylonian rivers;, in our hope that we might see the fullness of the land, the glory of the temple restored through your care.  And of course, in the fullness of time, this love took our shape, our form–in the crib at Bethlehem, in the ministry at Galilee and trans-Jordan, on the cross.

And in the Resurrection, we have seen the first fruits of this experiment.  Christ, fully human and fully divine, has risen from the dead.  The loneliness and sorrows and death-dealing nature of the human condition (represented by the wounds still marking his body) are now bathed in resurrected light.  Violence, warfare, power, prestige, and might are not the ultimate meaning of a human life.  Love alone is.

And now, because of our encounter with the resurrected Christ, you might be getting a sense of what you just joined.  We are not a community of the righteous, the powerful, the prestigious, the self-important.  From time-to-time, we’ll forget this, and when we do, your job as our younger brothers and sisters in Christ (at least in terms of baptism), is to remind us of this fact.  In fact, your very presence does this.

How so?  Because, we know something that you can only learn through years of practicing Christianity.  On Easter night, as we cheered and clapped and sent up a volley at your entrance into our midst, we were not delighting in the increase of our size, our stature.  We were overjoyed because what the Triune God has done in you.  And through you, through your presence in offices, in schools, in factories, in firehouses, in public service, in raising families and in classrooms, the very resurrected light of Christ will shine into the darkest places.  The Church you joined is the aftershocks of the Resurrection, moving out from the tomb of baptism into the world.  And you’re the newest sign to us that these aftershocks aren’t over.  That the Resurrected Christ lives anew through you.

Now, you might finally be getting a sense of our only membership obligation.  You have been baptized into Christ Jesus.  You have been a priest, a prophet, a royal figure.  But your priesthood, your prophecy, your “highness” receives its character from the one who died upon the tree.  From the one who loved unto the end.  So, you are to become this love for the life of the world.  That’s all.  Become total, self-giving love, unto the end (by the way, we call this sainthood).

A hard obligation.  Happily, it’s not ours to achieve, akin to the way that a Boy Scout achieves the Eagle Rank.  Rather, it’s a result of taking very, very, very seriously the experiment that the Triune God is still performing through the Church.

Consider again the Eucharist that we all received at the Vigil.  We brought forward gifts, which were fruits of creation, given to us by God.  We offered prayers that were not our own, but given to us through the tradition of the Church.  Through faith alone, we perceived a transformation of the elements, one possible solely through the gift of the Spirit.  And we “received” these elements, these gifts, these sacred offerings, and they become apart of us.  We consumed the Body and Blood of Christ, and we ourselves were consumed by his love.

In this simple act, carried out every day in the Church, we discover the only way to practice self-giving love.  The only way to fulfill our membership requirement.  Receive Christ himself that you might give.  Let your body become his body.  Become the sacrifice you receive.

That’s the genius of Christianity.  It isn’t about inheriting some future eternal life.  It isn’t about wrapping up salvation in the process of a late night baptism.    Instead, Christian salvation is supposal (to borrow a term from a friend):  suppose you lived as if your life was a total gift; suppose you let your will enter entirely into the divine will–a will so peaceful that your individuality is transformed, never destroyed; suppose you desired to be a saint.

So, let me re-iterate the membership requirement:  total self-giving love in imitation of the very life of God.  Last night, you received the first fruits of eternal life.  The first fruits of total love.  The rest of your days on this earth will be giving this love away.  Prodigally.  Foolishly.  Stupidly.  As if this love wasn’t yours to begin with.  Of course, such love never is–that’s precisely what makes our life together in the Church such a gift.  Happy Easter.

 

The Freedom of the Exodus: A Pedagogy of Love

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

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An essential aspect of being fully human, dear friends, is freedom.  The freedom that comes to a young child, who for the first time, stands upon her own two feet capable of exploring a world once out of reach.  The freedom that comes with having a job, one that allows us to care for our families and act creatively in the world.  The freedom that comes to those who approach death, not with fear, not with trepidation, but out of a deep sense of gratitude for that life, which soon will pass away.

Yet, the problem with freedom is that it is often difficult, it often dangerous.  It needs to be learned.  The young child, who begins to walk, is now capable of placing her hand upon the stove.  The job, which is supposed to allow us to be creative, to give ourselves more fully to family life, can easily become an end unto itself:  we work to work.  To approach death with gratitude requires that we have to allow our grudges, our sense of incompleteness, our desire to stay alive no matter the cost to also die.  True freedom, in this instance, means that we are no longer “free” to hold onto these things.

Dear friends, these reflections upon freedom are essential to perceiving the mystery presented in the liberation of Israel from Egypt.  Moses, called by God from his own captivity (in hiding, having murdered an Egyptian for his treatment of a fellow Israelite) leads his people out of Egypt through the Red Sea.  Treated violently, as slaves, expendable labor who were not even free to have children without permission from Pharaoh, pass freely through the waters.  The Egyptians, the source of Israel’s slavery, also walk freely into the Red Sea, though not out.  Imagine for a moment that you are one of those rescued slaves.  What seemed so impossible is now your reality.  You’re not just “free,” but the very source of your slavery is dead:  the bodies of Egyptians covering the floor of the Red Sea become signs of your liberation.  Indeed, there is a horror to seeing the bodies crushed by the waters.  But, the Egyptians were not forced to follow; rather, it was their own captivity, their incapacity to listen to God’s word, the hardness of their own heart, that found them in the waters.  But looking upon them, you know that they have become a sign of your freedom:  there is no one left to take you back into Egypt.

But, freedom dear friends is a funny thing.  It’s harder than captivity.  Think of the prisoner, released from jail, who immediately finds trouble again—not because they want to, but because they have come to love captivity.  Israel wandering for three days, begin to thirst, complaining that there was nothing to drink.  Israel wandering further and complaining, “Would that we had died at the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread!  But you had to lead us into this desert and make the whole community die of famine!” (16:3).  So used to their captivity that they cannot trust the God who rescued them from Egypt, who worked marvels and wonderful deeds.  They wanted nothing else but freedom to be back in the land where they had bread and meat but not freedom.  God has given them the greatest thing possible, the chance to be truly free.

The Church, in its earliest days, have seen in this parable of freedom a sign of baptism.  Indeed we pass through the waters, and when we’re out on the other side, we can look back and see our own dead Egyptians, our life of sin, our captivity taken captive.  We don’t have to sin.  We’re free.  Paul addresses this, “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.  The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.  Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.  For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.”  Yet this is a difficult teaching.  It’s difficult to be totally free, when you’re used to captivity.  To make of your bodies a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God (Rm. 12:1).

This is the great call not only of Lent but the entire Christian life.  We walk with the catechumen preparing for baptism, but we do so knowing that the real work comes after baptism, when we enter into the pedagogy of the Church, a school of freedom.  For, in this school, we learn the true meaning of freedom:  it is Christ’s gift of self upon the cross.  It is our own self-giving love.  To be truly free for the Christian is to be able to give out of ourselves to God, to another.  And this is the most radical form of freedom.  But, we’re free to do so, we’re free to choose love.  The love of our neighbor in need, the love of a God who stretches us out, reconfigures our imaginations, our capacities to love in the first place.  We’re free, leave behind that which imprisons us.  So, during this Easter, let us join in Miriam’s song, let us sing to the Lord, who is gloriously triumphant, let us sing with our lives, our consciences, our prayer, our work.

 

 

The Exciting Strangeness of Holy Saturday

Kara O’Malley

Director of Christian Formation, St. Joseph Parish, South Bend, IN

Echo 1 Graduate

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“Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness.  The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep.  The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began.  God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.”

This is a passage from a beautiful ancient homily, included each Holy Saturday in the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday.  I share it with you because I think it perfectly hits on the exciting strangeness of this day.  In some ways, it feels as though we are those disaster movie survivors—you know, the ones who emerge from basements and storm shelters amidst an empty and changed world with bemused looks on their faces, just as a ray of dawn streaks across the horizon.

Today, we emerge from the chaos and the tragedy and the emotion of the cross into…a still, silent world.  Like the disaster survivors in those movies, we don’t quite know what to do next, because the familiar has somehow changed in essential ways.  But a ray of dawn streaks across the horizon for us too.

Christ has truly died, though fully God, his death is not a show.  He is not on a holiday with his Father in heaven, waiting to make his grand entrance again.  No, he has been laid in the tomb and lost in its shadowy depths.  Our tradition teaches us that the Word of God descended so far, not only to the earth, not only to death on the earth, but even under the earth, to the land of the dead, to Sheol; in order to take by the hand Adam and Eve and all those held in the bondage of death since the beginning of time, and lead them out of darkness and into light.  Paul sings the song of this morning in the letter to the Ephesians: “Awake, O sleeper and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

On this day, we wait, in a strange, still world, for a sign of new life.  We wait for the joy that we know is coming, for the Son to rise in earnest.  Yet even in the midst of our wait and stillness, Christ’s redemptive work continues.  “Awake!”  He calls to us, “to a new world.  Awake to a new life.”  For our 6 Elect, this evening will find them emerging from the waters of baptism into new life in Christ.  His call echoes out to them.  But all of us are called to the same newness of life, to the same light of Christ.  We are called to open ourselves up to Lord in new ways, to allow him to light every corner of our lives.  In our reading the prophet Hosea said, “Let us know, let us strive to know the LORD; as certain as the dawn is his coming.”  We are called to waken and know Christ, who promised to be with us always.  This knowledge of Christ and his fidelity gives us our certain hope on this still, silent day.

For, what we look for is nothing less than the Light of World that dispels all darkness.  What we wait for is nothing less than our own life, hidden with Christ in God.  What we hope for is nothing less than the love of God, poured out abundantly for each of us.  Keeping our eyes on that streak of dawn on the horizon, let us look, wait, and hope well on this very Holy day.

The Genesis of Creation: The “Because-ness” of God

Leonard DeLorenzo

Director, Notre Dame Vision

Doctoral Student, Systematic Theology, University of Notre Dame

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Why is there something and not nothing?  That is what this Genesis reading really is about.

Here’s the answer:  Why is there something and not nothing?  “Because.”

That’s not an answer.

Well, it is and it isn’t.

There few things more frustrating than receiving the answer: “because.”

Consider this:

  1. A teenage girl asks her father: “Can I get a tattoo?”  “No.”  “Why?”  “Because.”
  2. Or a customer says to a cashier: “Oh, you didn’t give me enough change.”  “I know.”  “Well, can I get the rest?”  “No.”  “Why?”  “Because.”
  3. Or a boss asks her employee: “Why did you rack up so many expenses on your business trip?”  “Oh, um… because.”

Likewise, if we came to this creation story, and asked the question of “Why?” – We would probably find ourselves no less frustrated.  Why did God create?  Why is there something and not nothing?

Because.

More frustrating still is that this would be the right question to ask.  We’re asking what we should ask.  What’s more: the answer is the only one that could be given, even though we wouldn’t typically consider “Because” an answer at all.

Now obviously, the question of why is not explicitly posed in this story, nor is an answer immediately evident.  But the fact of the matter is that the story of creation, the entire biblical narrative, all of salvation history, leaves us with this question:

Why?  Why this instead of nothing?

We can ask the question or we can refuse to ask it, but the question waits for us to ask, and the question is about the whole.

How do you start to ask a question about the whole?  Where to begin?  That is exactly what this creation account offers us:

A beginning for our question.  We have to stand upon something to ask this question.

So listen again to the first two lines of this story:

In the beginning,

When God created the heavens and the earth…”

The beginning is this: God created.

This is a statement of faith: God created.

To say that the world is “created” is really to say something significant.  And to say that “God” – whoever that is – is the one who created – that’s significant, too.  We could just say, as Bertrand Russell once did, that the world “just is, that’s all.”

We could refuse to ask the question, or we could say that it’s not an important question.  That would be real atheism – not to ask the question.  But this story, the whole Bible, the ground of belief itself, starts with a statement of faith:  God created.

All-that-is is not just the product of chance.  Things created have meaning.  If God created, the meaning is hid with God.  What is this meaning?  What’s this all about?

Why is there something and not nothing?

At least now we know who to ask this question to.  We ask it to God.  And what is God’s answer.

Because.  What does this because mean?  Well, we only start to see it in this story:  “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gn. 1:31).

Notice: God made, then it was good.  It is not that creation was good, then God made it.  God creates out of nothing, there is nothing there to be good beforehand.  But because God has made it, it is good.  Nothing forces God’s hand;  There is no reason for God’s creative act.  God just creates… and then it is good.

But the full meaning of this great “Because” is not held within this story.  It is revealed in the fullness of time,  with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The full meaning of that “because” meets us here tonight, and draws us forward on our journey towards Easter.

In fact, we already know what God’s “because” means, though we can’t fully comprehend it.  We want reasons.  We always want reasons.  But God has no reasons.

God loves.  God creates something out of nothing just because God loves.

God doesn’t need something or someone to love, God isn’t completing Godself in and through creation.

God doesn’t need us.

God loves us.

God’s love creates something out of nothing,

And what God creates is “very good.”

I can imagine one of my children someday asking me, “Daddy, why do you love me?”

What could I say?  Is there a reason, or even a great many reasons I could give them that would cover it?  What could I say?

“Daddy, why do you love me?”  “Because.”

I can’t give them an answer beyond this, but that doesn’t mean they asked the wrong question.  Really, they would have asked the only question that matters.

And I could only say because, because there is not anything they did or could do that would “cause” my love for them.

I love them…just because.

That’s what it means to love.

I love you for you.

I want what is good for you,

Just because.

I want you to be.

Even if you were not, I would want you to be.

Just because.

This reading met us at the beginning of our Lenten journey,  And it meets us again at the Easter Vigil, because God wants us to ask the question:

Why is there something and not nothing?  Why, God, do you love me?  In the fullness of time, we hear God’s answer:

Because.