Little Children, Love One Another: The Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist

Carolyn Pirtle, M.M., M.S.M.

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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For reasons I can’t sufficiently explain, I find that the saints honored by the Church during the Christmas season somehow call my attention a little more than those celebrated at other times of the year. For me, it seems that these saints are made more radiant in the glow of the Christmas celebration. Today the Church honors one of the most important figures in the history of Christianity: St. John, Apostle and Evangelist. John has long been a source of fascination for me; my younger brother shares his name, and because of that, when I was a small child, my ears always perked up at Mass whenever I heard the name “John” mentioned. (They still do.)

As an adult, I am even more fascinated by St. John the Evangelist; his Gospel and epistles contain some of my favorite passages in all of Scripture. Were I ever banished to a deserted island, I would take his writings with me, and I feel certain that I could spend the rest of my life studying and contemplating his words and still not plumb their depths. His extraordinary Eucharistic theology continues to draw me “further up and further in” to the Paschal Mystery, and yet in his writings, I am also presented with the human face of Christ in all its beauty and mystery. John, held by tradition to be the “beloved disciple,” introduces me to the Word-made-flesh in a way that no other writer does, and teaches me to see myself as one who strives also to be called a “beloved disciple.” Through his words, I encounter the One Word of whom he speaks when he tells of “what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked upon and our hands have touched—we speak of the word of life” (1 Jn 1:1).

John knew the Incarnate Word of God. He knew Jesus as intimately as anyone ever could. This intimacy is evident throughout Scripture; Jesus frequently chose John to accompany Him along with Peter and James for particularly significant moments in His ministry like the Transfiguration and the raising of Jairus’ daughter. On the night of the Last Supper, John reclined next to Jesus, and even rested his head on the chest of his closest friend when Jesus spoke of a betrayer. John was in the Garden of Gethsemane, and of all the Apostles, John alone stood at the foot of the Cross when Jesus offered His very life as expiation for the sins of the world. And, as we hear in the Gospel reading for today’s feast, John was one of the first to see the empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning. Mary Magdalene, distraught with grief, did not understand what had happened; Peter went into the tomb first and saw the burial cloths. However, it is John of whom the Scripture says, “Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed” (Jn 20:8). In this account, John is the first to realize and to believe that Jesus has risen from the dead.

In thinking about those who knew Jesus personally, I sometimes wonder how they were able to carry on after He ascended into heaven; how do you proceed with your life after such life-altering events? John provides an answer for me: “What we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.” (1 Jn 1:3-4). For John, the only way to honor the Jesus he knew and loved was to make Him known to as many people as humanly possible. As St. Augustine wrote:

“‘We proclaim to you what we have seen.’ Make sure that you grasp the meaning of these words. The disciples saw our Lord in the flesh, face to face;
they heard the words he spoke, and in turn they proclaimed the message to us.
So we also have heard, although we have not seen.
Are we less favored than those who both saw and heard? If that were so, why should John add: ‘so that you too may have fellowship with us’? They saw, and we have not seen; yet we have fellowship with them, because we and they share the same faith.
And our fellowship is with God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son. And we write this to you to make [our] joy complete’—complete in that fellowship, in that love and in that unity.” (Tract 1, 1.3: PL 35.  1978. 1980)

John continues his relationship with Jesus by making Him known to others, by sharing His message of love with everyone he encountered. Not much is known of John’s life after the early beginnings of the Church; however, tradition holds that, toward the end of his life, he summed up the entire message of Christ in one sentence and repeated it over and over: “Little children, love one another.”

We continue during these days of Christmas to celebrate the reality that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). Let us take to heart the message of John, the beloved disciple, who tells us over and over again:

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.” (1 Jn 4:7-11)

Prayer Unplugged

Anna Sklut

Director of Campus Ministry, St. Agnes Academy
Houston, TX

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Five of us piled into my tiny Ford Focus, crammed to the brim with retreat supplies, and set out for the retreat center an hour and a half west of Houston—what most students would consider the middle of nowhere. As we entered the freeway, I asked my traveling companions, the four 12th graders who would be leading this year’s 9th grade retreat, what they were most looking forward to.

“Being without my cell phone,” Belle blurted out, almost before I could finish posing the question. The other student leaders agreed, beginning a conversation looking very different than I thought it would.

I expected the girls to spout off their excitement for the talks they would give, the dance they carefully learned to share with the 9th graders, and how much fun we were going to have when we met nearly 250 fresh-women at the retreat center for their first high school retreat. Instead, the girls were most excited to unplug. These young women are wise beyond their years.

We live in a fast-paced, all-access world of high demands and instant gratification: texts and emails straight to our phones, internet at the tips of our fingers, facebook “likes” within seconds and to-the-minute tweets. With cell phones constantly beeping, buzzing and lighting up, finding solitude and time to pray is the biggest challenge for the young people I work with, and if I am honest, it is a problem for me, as well.

In talking with these student leaders, we agreed that ideally, our whole lives are a prayer—seeking to glorify God in all we do, especially amidst the craziness of daily life. Still, moments of solitude are essential. Prayer is food for our souls and fuel for our spiritual engines. Our connection with God gives us strength to go throughout our busy days and be the hands and feet of God in our daily life.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of life, how do we carve out sacred time to quiet our hearts and minds, to take an inventory of our feelings and the desires in our hearts, and to listen to the whisper of God speaking to us like God spoke to Elijah in 1 Kings?

The students were right: we need to unplug.

Since we are not always in a situation where our cell phones will be taken away from us the moment we step onto the retreat site, we have to consciously carve out time in our daily lives for God. Even if just for a few minutes a day, we need to unplug literally and mentally from world around us to reconnect with God.

We arrived at the retreat center and the student leaders piled their phones into my center console, where they stayed for a whole 24 hours. The girls were able to give all of their attention to the 9th graders and in moments when they were not entertaining and ministering, the student leaders spent time reflecting and connecting with God. Dare I say, even the 9th graders enjoyed being away from their phones?

Of course, by the time we were back on the freeway returning home, several new Instagram updates were already in progress. And the world spins madly on.

Reflections on the Creed: Part 6

Fr. Mark Gurtner

Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Ft. Wayne-South Bend
Pastor, Our Lady of Good Hope Church, Ft. Wayne, IN

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This is the sixth in a series of articles first printed in “Today’s Catholic.”
We are grateful for the permission of the editorial staff to republish them here.

Previous articles in this series:
Reflections on the Creed: Part 1
Reflections on the Creed: Part 2
Reflections on the Creed: Part 3
Reflections on the Creed: Part 4
Reflections on the Creed: Part 5

‘He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty…’

A good question to ask is — why did Jesus ascend to heaven? Wouldn’t it have been great if He would have just stayed here with us physically? We could pack out big venues where many, many people could come and hear Him speak and come to have Him heal them. We could pack out Lucas Oil Stadium! So why did Jesus ascend? Why did He leave us?

The answer lies in the fact that if Jesus had stayed here physically, He would only be in one place at one time. Yes, it would be great to have Him pack out big stadiums, but what if you were in India and Jesus was in Indiana? You could not be with Him. In fact, the times that you might be able to be with Him would be rare.

Jesus wants all people, everywhere, at all times to be able to have access to Him. Jesus Himself tells us this in the Gospel of John. Speaking to the Apostles in John 16:7, Jesus says, “But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.”

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus becomes present in every time and in every place to everyone. When we pray, Jesus becomes present to us through the power of the Holy Spirit. Especially when the sacraments are celebrated, the Holy Spirit brings forth the presence of Jesus. Think of the Eucharist. During the Eucharistic Prayer at Holy Mass, the priest puts his hands over the gifts of bread and wine and calls down the Holy Spirit that they might become the Body and Blood of Christ, the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. During the giving of absolution in the sacrament of Penance, the priest says, “God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins….” Thus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus comes to forgive our sins in Confession.

Again, as Jesus said to the Apostles, “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth,which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (Jn 14:16-18). So in many ways, although Jesus has ascended from our sight, He remains present to us through the power of the Holy Spirit. He continues to fulfill His promise that He will not leave us orphans. We can be with Him anytime and in any place.

Further, it is only right and proper that, after having descended to earth, Jesus should return to glory in heaven. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

“Henceforth Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father: ‘By “the Father’s right hand” we understand the glory and honor of divinity, where He who exists as Son of God before all ages, indeed as God, of one being with the Father, is seated bodily after He became incarnate and His flesh was glorified.’ Being seated at the Father’s right hand signifies the inauguration of the Messiah’s kingdom, the fulfillment of the prophet Daniel’s vision concerning the Son of man: ‘To Him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.’ After this event the apostles became witnesses of the ‘kingdom (that) will have no end’” (CCC, §663-66).

Hail Mother of Peace, Hail Virgin of Guadalupe, Hail Patroness of the New Evangelization

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, 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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Very early one Saturday morning at the beginning of December of 1531, a poor but respected Indian called Juan Diego (born, it is said, in Cuauhtitlan and under the pastoral care of the religious community of Tlatelolco) was on his way to Tlaltelolco on a holy errand. When he reached the hill called Tepeyac dawn was breaking and he heard singing coming from above the hill.  When Juan Diego reached the hill called Tepeyac dawn was breaking and he heard singing coming from above the hill. The singing stopped and was not heard again, but he heard a voice calling to him from the top of the hill. “Beloved Juan Diego,” it said. He responded at once, bravely climbing the hill towards the place where the voice was coming from.

When he reached the top he saw a Lady standing there, who called him to herself. When he came close to her he was stunned with how beautiful she was: her clothes shone like the sun. Then the Virgin gave him her command: “Know, beloved son, that I am the immaculate ever-virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who is the Origin of all life, who creates all things and keeps them in being, the Lord of Heaven and Earth. I greatly wish, I earnestly desire, that my house should be built in this very place. I will show him to you there and praise him as I show him, my Love and Compassion, my Help and Defence. For in truth I am your compassionate Mother, yours and of all who live together in this land and of any others who love me, seek me, and call on me with confidence and devotion. In that house I will listen to their weeping and their sadness, I will give them help in their troubles and a cure for their misfortunes. So that this desire of mine may be fulfilled, go to Mexico City, to the palace of the Bishop. Tell him that I have sent you to him to tell him how much I want a house to be built here for me, a church built here at the bottom of the hill.”

When Juan Diego arrived in the city he went immediately to the house of the Bishop, Juan Zumárraga, a Franciscan. But when the bishop heard what he had to say, he did not believe him completely and said “My son, come another time and I will listen to you then. Meanwhile I will consider what should be done about your wish and your desire.”
Another day he saw the Queen of Heaven coming down from where he had seen her. She came to meet him next to the hill, stopped him, and said “Listen, my beloved son, have no fear or anxiety in your heart. Do not try to do anything about your uncle’s grave illness or about any other trouble of yours. For am I not here with you, your mother? Are you not safe in the shadow of my protection? Am I not the source of your life and your happiness? Am I not holding you in my lap, wrapped in my arms? What else can you possibly need? Do not be upset or distressed. Climb again, my beloved son, to the summit of this hill, to the place where you saw me and heard me speak. You will find flowers growing there. Pick them and gather them and bring them down to me.”
Juan Diego came back down with the flowers he had picked. She looked at them, took them with her blessed hands and put them in his tilma, or cape. She told him: “Most beloved son, these flowers are the sign that you are to carry to the Bishop. You yourself are my messenger and I entrust myself to your faithfulness. I strictly command you not to unfold your tilma in front of anyone except the Bishop; but to him you should show what it is you are carrying. As you do so, tell him the story of how I asked you to climb to the top of the hill and pick the flowers there. Tell him everything you saw and marvelled at, so that he will believe you and undertake to build the church I wish for.”
Obedient to the command of the Queen of Heaven, he took the road to Mexico City. He went happily, confident that all would turn out well. Coming into the palace he prostrated himself before the Bishop and recounted all that he had seen and told him the errand on which he had been sent. “My Lord,” he said, “I have done as you asked. I went to my Lady, the Queen of Heaven, holy Mary, the Mother of God, and told her that you had asked for a sign so that you might believe me and build the church that the Virgin herself desires. I told her that I had given my word to bring you back some sign of her wishes. She heard what you had asked and accepted with good grace your request for some sign so that you could fulfil her will. Today, very early, she sent me back to see you.”
The whole city came running to see the holy image. They wondered at it, accepted it as the work of God and made prayers to him. And that day Juan Diego’s uncle, whom the Virgin had cured, told them in what way she should be revered and said that her image should be known as the ever-virgin Saint Mary of Guadalupe.

Continue reading Hail Mother of Peace, Hail Virgin of Guadalupe, Hail Patroness of the New Evangelization

Desire, the Season of Advent, and Psalm 42 (Part 1: Psalm 42:1-2).

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, 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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December is the month of desire (not the salacious kind necessarily).   Rather, it is the month where we desire a moment of peace; where we desire to complete our Christmas preparations in a timely enough manner that we can enjoy some aspect of the holiday season (outside of waiting for parking at a mall, which would be for me the lowest level of hell in my personal Inferno).   As a professor, it is the month in which I long for the end of papers to grade, of exams to mark, of articles to write.  I long for the opportunity to lock myself in my home, sit by a fire, and immerse myself in a book for days at a time without the slightest interruption from the noise of emails received.

Of course, such desires are very natural, even if we’re often unaware of them in our own fast-paced society where we rarely commit ourselves to a moment of rest.  For some of us (including myself and most of my students), this incapacity to rest is self-inflicted, the fault of our need to remain busy at all costs.   For others, our busyness is a necessity, the only way that we can afford to pay the bills.  Still, few people would refuse to acknowledge the human desire to know the joy of even the briefest rest.

Why is it that we desire this quiet, this moment of rest in the midst of our busyness?  I have begun to reflect on this desire for rest in light of Psalm 42.   Those aware of liturgical history know that this is the baptismal psalm par excellence, the doe’s thirsting for the fountain becomes a sign of the catechumen’s spiritual thirst for the living waters of baptism.  Yet as Augustine notes, the psalm pertains to the entire Christian life:

“All the same brothers and sister, I cannot believe that a longing of such intensity is satisfied in believers even at baptism.   If the candidates know whether their pilgrimage is tending, and what that land is to which they cross over, their longing will be kindled to even greater intensity” (Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos, 41.7).

Praying psalm 42 rekindles within us the habit of desire proper to those still on pilgrimage, those advancing toward life with the Triune God.  In some ways, this psalm is not simply appropriate for baptism but is the paradigmatic psalm for the entire season of Advent, in which the heart is schooled in divine longing.  Let us run through this psalm, attentive of its Advent character.  We will run through this psalm in three parts, the first appearing today, the second and third tomorrow.

Like a hind crying for water, my soul cries for You, O God; my soul thirsts for God, the living God; O when will I come to appear before God!  (Ps. 42:1-3).

For the most part, my prayers rarely approach this level of longing.   I long for the national championship game (trite, I know), I long for the opportunity to vacation, I long to see my wife after a long journey away.   But my own prayer life is often strikingly devoid of this even slight desire to enter the presence of God.   At my best, I mumble through the words of the Liturgy of the Hours half-heartedly in the morning; at my worst, I find any excuse to put off this communion with the living God.  Yet when I read these words of the psalmist, when they pass my lips, my whole existence is re-oriented toward a new longing.  I come face-to-face with my own sin, the deep awareness that I have not desired well.  My desires have been too small.   My prayer life becomes a matter of what is sufficient (mumbling words) rather than what is possible (true attention to the God who seeks to make my heart a home).   My care for the poor, for the student in need is reduced to a pittance of loving mercy, rather than demonstrating the prodigality of the Father.  I am stingy in my longing, setting up boundaries that limit the possibility of love.

Advent is a season of penance, not because it is a miniature Lent in preparation for Christmas.   Rather, we do the penance of Advent because we seek to re-order our desires, to long anew for an encounter with the Word made flesh like the doe that longs for running streams.  Bernard of Clairvaux writes in a sermon on the feast of Advent, “O humankind, you need not sail across the seas or pierce the clouds or cross the Alps!   No grand way is being shown to you.   Run to your own self to meet your God!   The Word is near you, on your lips and in your heart!  Run to compunction of heart and confession of lips to escape at least the dunghill of wretched conscience, for there the author of purity cannot appropriately enter” (Bernard of Clairvaux, Advent:  Sermon One, 10).  It’s not because the Word made flesh refuses to enter into the darkest places, into the shadows of the human heart.   Rather, it’s we who refuse to let the Word enter.  As Augustine writes in his Confessions:

“The house of my soul is too small for you to enter:  make it more spacious by your coming.  It lies in ruins:  rebuild it.   Some things are to be found there which will offend your gaze; I confess this to be so and know it well.   But who will clean my house?  To whom but yourself can I cry, Cleanse me of my hidden sins, O Lord, and for those incurred through others pardon your servant…Yet allow me to speak, though I am but dust and ashes, allow me to speak in your merciful presence, for it is to your mercy that I address myself…” (Confessions I.5.6-6.7).

We fast, we do penance during the season of Advent, so we may begin to notice the smallness of our desire.   That our hunger for food becomes hunger for the God who seeks to re-build us.   That our love of the poor, to those in need, for our family itself, might increase in us the capacity to love with increasing fervor those who seem least lovable.  That our encounter with the word of the Scriptures re-capacitates our imagination to see the subtle and small ways that the Word made flesh comes to us each day.  This increase in desire is a tangible sign of the advent of Christ in our lives.

Thus, it is often not God who refuses to appear to us.   Instead, it is we who cannot recognize the beauty of our Beloved.  We are myopic.  And thus, it is we who during the season of Advent submit the eyes of our hearts to be reformed by the salutary love of the one who still seeks to come:

Immortal Heat, O let thy greater flame/Attract the lesser to it:  let those fires, Which shall consume the world, first make it tame; And kindle in our hearts such true desires,/As may consume our lusts, and make thee way./Then shall our hearts pant thee; then shall our brain All her invention on thine Altar lay,/And there in hymns send back thy fire again:/Our eyes shall see thee, which before saw dust;/Dust blown by wit, till that they both were blind;/Thou shall recover all thy goods in kind,/Who wert disseised by usurping lust:/All knees shall bow to thee; all wits shall rise;/And praise him who did make and mend our eyes (George Herbert, Love [2]).

Let this season of Advent be a time to long anew, to refresh fatigued desire, and thus to transfigure our voices into a living gift of love offered to the Son.  For there he comes, in hymns of praise.   For there he comes, in the co-worker whose neediness irks us.   For there he comes, even in traffic encountered in the parking lot of the mall.  Maranatha.  Come, O Christ, our Lord.

Tomorrow, we will continue with Psalm 42, addressing the radical hope needed to praise the seemingly absent God.

 

 

Waiting for Joy

Leonard DeLorenzo

Director, Notre Dame Vision

Doctoral Student, Systematic Theology, University of Notre Dame

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I have a friend and former colleague whom I routinely accuse of celebrating on the 20-yard line. Whenever it becomes clear that we will likely realize success in an endeavor, or when the end of some process is in sight, she already begins celebrating the accomplishment. If a football team were to do this as they entered the red zone, they would never score. This is a practice of potentially disastrous consequences, one which I believe should be avoided at all costs.

I am a strict observer of the rules of end zone celebrations: that is, celebrations are only to be conducted—in an appropriate manner—once one has clearly and definitively crossed the goal line. For me, celebrating on the 20 is an unconscionable offense. Finish the job, then celebrate.

It is not surprising, then, that my friend begins celebrating Christmas during Thanksgiving weekend—if not sooner—while I am rather militant about forestalling the Christmas season until the evening of the 24th. She will crank up Christmas songs, turn on Christmas movies, and wish people a “Merry Christmas” even when there are still a couple of pages to turn in the annual calendar. Conversely, I will only listen to O Come, O Come Emmanuel for four weeks and routinely wish people a “Blessed Advent.” Even my home has come to reflect this discipline, as we traditionally set up an “Advent Tree” decorated in purple, silver, and pink on the first Sunday of Advent, only to undecorated and then redecorate for Christmas either right before or just after the Vigil Mass. We also make fun of houses that are decorated with Christmas lights in Ordinary Time. At some point, my children will realize that this is not exactly normal.

While it is fashionable this time of year for people like me to complain about the premature start of the Christmas season and the correlative eclipse of Advent observances, I have also recently come to recognize the shortsightedness of my rigid observances. My heavy emphasis on the appropriate disciplines of the given season may ironically de-capacitate me for the enjoyment of that for which I am oh-so-patiently waiting. I may actually spend so much time preventing myself from experiencing the joy of the event to come that I dull my ability to enjoy it when the time is right. I think I tend to like both Advent and Lent because there is stuff to do: I can treat these seasons like projects, with disciplines to master and endurances to exhibit. The problem is, of course, that clinging to too much control does not really prepare me to receive the free and thoroughly surprising gift that comes at Christmas—or at Easter, for that matter.

Indeed, the first and perhaps most important response to any gift is to enjoy it, and there is an essentially receptive element to enjoying something. In allowing ourselves to enjoy a gift, we permit that gift to put us in a joyous state, to make us happy, to bestow delight upon us, to grant us some form of pleasure. As we approach the singular and unrepeatable gift of Christmas—the gift of God’s Love incarnate—the primary response should always be to allow ourselves to enjoy this gift. We allow it to affect us, to influence us, to inspire us, and to comfort us. Before anything else, this gift seeks to put us into a state of joy.

Perhaps the great error I habitually commit is that I try to strictly enjoy the work of preparation and thus forget about that for which I wait. I can take so much delight in forestalling the joy of Christmas that I start to enjoy not allowing myself to enjoy it. Rightly considered, though, all of the work of waiting should be done in order to let myself yield to the surprising joy of the gift of Christmas. For those like me who tend to become a little too rigid in our practices of preparation, we can start to believe that what comes at Christmas is good because we waited for it, when the truth is actually that we waited for it because it is good.

In the end—and even on the way to the end—that good, good gift seeks not just to fulfill our desire, but even to transform our desire itself. The effects of this transformation may begin as we continue to wait, like the scent of a nearly finished dinner wafting into the den to both increase and hone our hunger. I suppose it is okay—and in fact even right—to enjoy the fragrance of the meal to come even before enjoying it in its fullness. Paradoxically, this preliminary enjoyment does not spoil the meal, but will rather enhance it. In other words, I suppose it might not be so bad to let Silent Night play while decorating our Advent Tree.

So while I will continue to critique the premature celebration of Christmas and the diminishment of the right observance of Advent, I also hope to allow myself to enjoy that which I ultimately do not control. There are little irruptions of joy even in the waiting, and these irruptions both intensify and sweeten the period of anticipation: they shape my desire for what is to come. Certainly, hopeful anticipation will always be a discipline, one that requires certain motions, sacrifices, and devotions. Even still, this waiting is not, in itself, the end that we seek: the end is that which comes to us, as gift.

Our God traverses inconceivable distances to enter into our lives. In the birth of the Holy Child, shockwaves of joy ripple not only forward into the period of celebration, but also back into the time hopeful anticipation and disciplined preparation.

Collect Prayers in the Season of Advent

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, 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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During this season of Advent, we wanted to make available two videos, useful for those seeking to do liturgical formation in parishes and schools alike.

The first video is a general introduction to the collect prayer, helpful for those seeking to understand the deeper structures of the Church’s prayer.

The second is a theological reflection on the poetic images in the collect prayers of Advent and Christmas.

Happy viewing!

The Beauty of the Immaculate Conception

Carolyn Pirtle, M.M., M.S.M.

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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The celebration of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one of beauty and fittingness. It is one of harmony and order as an integral part of God’s plan to redeem the world in Christ Jesus. Mary’s Immaculate Conception is the first sign that the promise of salvation is about to be fulfilled, the first indication that the long night of sin and death is about to give way to the dawn of the Sun of Justice. As Msgr. Ronald Knox writes, “When God created the first Adam, he made his preparations beforehand; he fashioned a paradise ready for him to dwell in. And when he restored our nature in the second Adam, [Christ], once more there was a preparation to be made beforehand. He fashioned a paradise for the second Adam to dwell in, and in that paradise was the body and soul of our blessed Lady, immune from the taint of sin, Adam’s curse.” Indeed, Mary is the one spoken of in the book of Genesis at the dawn of creation; she is the woman of whom God says to Satan: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers” (Gen 3:15). It is that enmity – that void between Mary and Satan – that God fills with His grace.

We see in the Genesis passage the inextricable link between the woman and her offspring, between Mary and her Son, Jesus. All honor given to Mary is only given by virtue of her relationship to Christ, including the grace of the Immaculate Conception. In his apostolic exhortation Marialis Cultis, Pope Paul VI explains the importance of this relationship: “In the Virgin Mary everything is relative to Christ and dependent upon Him. It was with a view to Christ that God the Father from all eternity chose her to be the all-holy Mother and adorned her with gifts of the Spirit granted to no one else” (§25). As the Catechism states, “The ‘splendor of an entirely unique holiness’ by which Mary is ‘enriched from the first instant of her conception’ comes wholly from Christ… The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person ‘in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places’ and chose her ‘in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love” (CCC, §492). From the dawn of time, Mary is redeemed by the salvific sacrifice of her Son, Jesus, and because of the outpouring of God’s grace, she is able to “[give] herself entirely to the work of her Son; she did so in order to serve the mystery of redemption with him and dependent on him, by God’s grace” (CCC, §494). It was fitting that Mary be conceived without sin so that she, in turn, might bring forth the Sinless One. She was immaculately conceived so that, empty of sin, she might be “full of grace.”

Indeed, a key to a greater understanding and appreciation of Mary’s Immaculate Conception is wrapped up in the greeting of the angel Gabriel: “Hail, full of grace!” (Lk 1:28). The angel addresses Mary, not by the name given her by her earthly parents at her birth, but by the name given her by her heavenly Father at the birth of creation. She is, from all eternity, “full of grace.” In this angelic salutation, Gabriel reveals Mary to herself as God truly sees her. Once Mary is enveloped in this revelation that God has chosen her as His own, protected her as the apple of His eye (see Ps 17:8), she is then able to see how the fullness of God’s grace will continue to act in her, to overshadow her, to bring about life in her virgin womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is in that fullness of grace that she is able to surrender her self and her life completely to the divine will: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).  And it is in that fullness of grace, in seeing herself as God sees her, that Mary is able to serve not only as a dwelling place for the Incarnate Word, but also as a magnifying lens through which we see the beauty and harmony of a life lived in God, a life void of self and full of grace, a life that proclaims for all eternity: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Lk 1:46b-47).

Hurry Up and Wait: The Dynamics of Advent

Carolyn Pirtle, M.M., M.S.M.

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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For a long time now, Advent has held a special place in my own observance of the liturgical year. I won’t say it’s my favorite liturgical season – to do that would seem like a parent naming one child of many as the favorite – but I will say that this season resonates with me in a singular way. Every year I try to pinpoint why exactly this is the case, and every year, just when I think I’ve nearly got it figured out, it’s already time to celebrate Christmas, and the full meaning of Advent has eluded me yet again.

Perhaps Advent’s elusiveness stems from the fact that people have spent centuries spilling ink in “defining” it. We’ve all heard that Advent is a season of preparation, a season of waiting, a season of hope. And it is indeed all of those things. But the difficulty comes (for me, anyway) in expressing spiritually, emotionally, and physically what I know to be true intellectually.

It is one thing to know that I am to prepare my heart for the coming of Christ; it is quite another to actually prepare my heart through prayer. It is one thing to know that I am to wait for the coming of Christ as the watchman waits for the dawn; it is quite another to wait in joyful hope – to anticipate the coming of Christ by creating a space for Him in my heart through fasting and silence. It is one thing to hope for the “day of peace that dimly shines,” when Christ will be all in all; it is quite another to become a person whose life proclaims that hope to others through acts of charity.

Part of this dichotomy results from a skewed mentality of waiting. Often, in the very act of waiting for something to arrive, we take ourselves out of the present moment and dwell in the future tense, which, to indulge in the obvious wordplay, only serves to create tension. Think about how stressed people are at this time of year – buying gifts, delivering baked goods, decorating, writing cards, even doing charity work – all of this activity takes us out of the mind frame of contemplative waiting and into one of frenetic cramming. Christmas becomes the deadline, not the beginning of a celebratory season. Instead of crowning our Advent observance with the celebration of the Christmas season, we have one day of almost anti-climactic gift-giving, which inevitably and almost immediately gives way to the great let-down after the holiday.

If only there were a way to regain a proper understanding of waiting so that our celebration might be more fully-formed. To do so would require a truly counter-cultural stance in the face of unbridled materialism, with retailors insisting that we begin celebrating Christmas sometime just before Halloween. Nevertheless, if we are to truly grasp the beauty and the meaning of Advent, we must relearn how to wait. Couples who are expecting a child know all about this: you spend nine months getting ready, and each day of those nine months brings its own unique signals that something is on its way that will change the world as you know it. The preparations in the logistical sense must occur, but alongside those is a deeper preparation: a gradual decrescendo of self in order to create a space for the other, or as John the Baptist says of Christ, “He must increase; I must decrease” (Jn 3:30).

As we learn anew to wait for Christ, as we still the self into silence preparing to welcome Him, let us pray with St. Augustine: “The house of my soul is too small for you to enter: make it more spacious by your coming” (Conf. 1.5.5—1.6). By learning how to wait, we become capacitated to receive the ultimate gift of the presence of Christ, and in so doing, even the time of waiting becomes gift.

Reflections on the Creed: Part 5

Rev. Msgr. Michael Heintz, Ph.D.

Rector, St. Matthew Cathedral,
South Bend, IN
Director, Master of Divinity Program,
University of Notre Dame

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This is the fifth in a series of articles first printed in “Today’s Catholic.”
We are grateful for the permission of the editorial staff to republish them here.

Previous articles in this series:
Reflections on the Creed: Part 1
Reflections on the Creed: Part 2
Reflections on the Creed: Part 3
Reflections on the Creed: Part 4

“…suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified died and was buried; He descended into hell…”

These words of the Creed bring us to the very heart of the faith: the Paschal Mystery. From the Greek word pascha, which is a rough transliteration of the Hebrew pesach, or “Passover,” this term both harkens back to the Exodus as an anticipation of the saving Passover of Jesus and became the way Christians identified the Mystery which constitutes their very identity.

It is important to clarify this term. Rather than being merely a puzzle to be solved or a problem to be analyzed, the theological term Mystery means a reality whose depth, breadth, and texture are such that it cannot be simply or easily categorized, defined, or conceptualized without doing damage to the reality itself. More precisely, this comes to refer (St. Paul first uses it in this sense in both Ephesians and Colossians) to God’s saving plan for His creation revealed, enacted and embodied in His Incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. The “Paschal Mystery” then refers to the Death and Resurrection of Christ as the full revelation of God’s saving plan for His creation.

It might seem curious that, of all the various details of Jesus’ Death, the Creed makes the point of mentioning Pontius Pilate by name; none of Jesus’ disciples garner a mention, nor do any other characters from the Gospel except His own Mother.

There is good reason such detail is included. Around the time Christianity began to spread, various movements (themselves perhaps even offshoots of the Christian faith) broadly called “gnostic” also rose as competing versions of Jesus’ legacy.

Gnosticism had little use for the messiness of history, as it viewed embodiment (and the entire spatio-temporal order) as a condition from which its adherents hoped to escape by gaining the secret teaching (gnosis) of Jesus, imparted and accessible only to the few. The fact that Pilate’s name is included indicates how seriously the Church takes human history (the arena not from which we are saved, but through which we are saved; this is, after all, the very basis of the sacramental system) and to make clear that at the heart of Christian faith is not a teaching (secret or otherwise) or an idea, but rather an event, a life lived and freely given on our behalf.

Far from mere myth or fable (and the Gnostics concocted some doozies), Christian faith is rooted in concrete human lives and events: in short, the center of human (and cosmic) history is the man Jesus who, because He is not merely man, gives meaning to all history, to all reality, and whose self-gift on the Cross on a hill outside of Jerusalem on a Friday afternoon 2,000 years ago gives life to all. This is what has been called the “scandal of particularity,” an idea dear to Pope Benedict XVI, that God has chosen particular moments, places, and individuals in human history to work out His saving plan, His Mystery.

When we profess that Jesus, at His Death, “descended into hell,” we must not imagine that Jesus paid a visit to the realm of the damned to sort things out with Satan. Rather, the phrase used in the Creed, ad inferos (or ad infera) refers not to the state of existence of those who have irrevocably turned from God (for hell is not a “place,” but an identity, a mode of being, just as heaven is less a locale than an actualization of our identity in Christ), but rather to what the Greeks called Hades or the Old Testament Sheol, the region of the dead.

As the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar emphasized, Jesus’s solidarity with humanity is such that He even experiences the dregs of death — the Lord does not bypass death but enters into it fully and freely; yet death cannot contain Him who is Life, a life He shares freely with all the righteous who had lived since the foundation of the world.