The Eucharist as a Sacrament of Love

LG NDCL BThe Notre Dame Center for Liturgy and the Alliance for Catholic Education have partnered to create a resource on the Eucharist, entitled The Eucharist as a Sacrament of Love.   Drawing on Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI’s apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum caritatis, The Eucharist as a Sacrament of Love treats the Mass as a mystery to be believed, celebrated, and lived.   Discover the central Scriptural and doctrinal teachings behind our celebration of the Eucharist, why Catholics pray the way they do at Mass, and how the Eucharist is central to our vocation to love.

This video is intended especially for Catholic schools and parish catechetical programs, although it is accessible to all who are interested in a deeper appreciation of the Eucharist in Catholic faith and practice.

Thank You, Benedict

Leonard-DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo

Director, Notre Dame Vision

Doctoral Student, Systematic Theology, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church (Mt. 16:18)To serve in the See of St. Peter is to serve at the foundation of the Church.  Since April 19, 2005, Joseph Ratzinger has served this foundation as Pope Benedict XVI.  Today, he vacates that seat and retreats into a life of seclusion where his prayers will not be broadcast far and wide, but offered up in silence.  This is a moment of passing from one age to the next, both for the Church and for Benedict himself.

In the interest of progress and curiosity, the world is eager to move on from this moment.  Speculation about the next pope continues to bustle in the media, while the profiles of the papabile are already scrutinized for signs of strength and weakness, as well as for detecting suspected hidden agendas.  The present moment is fleeting; in fact, many will certainly proceed as if this moment never came around at all.  The moment of transition—of passing—can easily be forgotten, suspended ever so delicately between two periods of more apparent certainty.  And yet, should we not pause in this moment to ask what the meaning of this moment is and what this moment may, in and of itself, require of us?  Perhaps at its most basic level, this is the moment to say Thank you, Benedict.

BenedictWindow

For what do we say thank you?  Typically, we each look for what someone has done for me, for outstanding achievement or for a notable contribution, or simply by reflex because we were raised to say so on certain socially acceptable occasions.  But to Benedict, our thanks should not be primarily for deeds performed, or for achievements or contributions added, or because it is just the nice thing to do.  Our thanks should spring forth because we recognize something about the mystery of the seat in which he sat and which he now vacates.  It is the mystery of a confession that the Lord first received from the lips of St. Peter, and which the Lord continues to receive in every generation of the Church.  The mystery of Peter’s confession is hidden in the mystery of the One who is confessed, a mystery accessible only to faith.  In faith, this confession reaches out in trust to believe not only in he who has come into the world, but also in the reason of his coming.  He who has come is God’s love incarnate, God’s pledge of self as the source of life and the promise of aPeterPaul future in hope.  He comes not because we have merited his love; rather, he comes because his love is eternal, knows no bounds, and is given in absolute freedom.  There is no reason outside of the love itself.  The confession of St. Peter reached out to this ungraspable mystery.  This same confession is what Benedict made his own on behalf of the whole Church and indeed the world, and it is this confession that alone measures the ministry of the See of St. Peter: You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Mt. 16:16).

Many are eager to assess the effectiveness of Benedict’s pontificate.  What is the historical significance of his tenure?  How well has he governed the Church?  Where has he failed?  What tangible good did he do, and what harm?  These are all, in there own way, important and worthy questions.  Without a doubt, questions like these can and will be posed for the health and vitality of the Church and for the promotion of justice both within and outside of the Church.  Even so, these are not questions that reach to the heart of the ministry that Benedict completes today.  His ministry—and the ministry of his more than 260 predecessors as well as the one who will assume this ministry within the next several weeks—is primarily a ministry of service to the very unity of the Church.  In their communion with his See, the local churches of the world share in communion with one another.  This communion is not founded upon the power or the allure of the position itself, nor upon the merit or distinctive qualifications of the one who fills the position.  The communion is founded upon nothing short of the love of God come to meet us in Christ, a gift that is accepted in the confession of St. Peter, the same confession that Peter’s successors echo as the first among equals, both in season and out of season.

If we do not see this heart of the ministry of St. Peter, which Benedict has assumed for these past eight years, then we do not see the one thing that gives the rest of the papacy its standard for judgment.  Not because of anything he has done, but simply in virtue of the office itself as given first to St. Peter from the Lord, Benedict XVI has served as the representative of the communion of the Church, the unity of which is founded in the communion of God with us.  This is the very communion we celebrate in the Eucharist: the communion of God with us and our communion with one another in Christ.  Any and all deeds Benedict performed, all he has said and stood for, how he has governed or failed to govern… all of this, in the end, is to be measured according to the ministry of his See, a ministry at the service of communion.

BenedictEucharist

Benedict himself testified to this truth in his final words in his last public address as pope yesterday morning: “In our heart, in the heart of each of you, let there be always the joyous certainty that the Lord is near, that He does not abandon us, that He is near to us and that He surrounds us with His love. Thank you!” These words offer a window into Benedict’s own prayer life and therefore into the heart of who he has striven to be as pope and who he will continue to be starting tomorrow in his life of prayer hidden from public view.  His word of thanks is perhaps his last and most eloquent teaching, for in his thanks the gift of God drawn near and the confidence of believing ourselves to be God’s beloved are united.

Therefore, before we move on to any of the important assessments, and before we move on in curiosity or hope or suspicion to the next one who will occupy the seat, it is incumbent upon us to recognize what we have been given in these last eight years.  For if we miss the confession that defines the ministry Joseph Ratzinger assumed as Pope Benedict XVI, we miss everything about this ministry in which the whole world is presently interested, albeit for the briefest of moments.  This confession itself always springs forth in response to the gift of Christ to his Church, and so in seeing the gift of the ministry of that confession, we allow ourselves to better see the gift of Christ himself.  It is for this gift in the economy of grace that we say Thank you, Benedict.

Pope Benedict XVI and the Speed of Light

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo

Director, Notre Dame Vision

Doctoral Student, Systematic Theology, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

Blurry pattern of colorful decoration lightsLight moves very slowly at Harvard.  That’s because Prof. Lene Vestergaard Hau did what Einstein thought impossible: she harnessed light (see video below).  The key to doing so was figuring out how to super-cool atoms so that they acted as if they were just one, dense, nebulous atom.  With the help of some nifty lasers used to cross-manipulate sodium atoms (like the ones found in table salt), Hau was able to cool these atoms to just a few billionths of a degree above absolute zero, creating a cloud of the coldest matter in the universe.  This cloud is capable of taming and even containing light.  So when Hau sent a pulse of light moving at 186,000 miles/second into this cloud, she was able to slow the light down to first 38 miles/hour, then 15 miles/hour, and now even 1 mile/hour.  This means that a person could crawl faster than the speed of light.  Hau has refined her technique so well that she can even trap light indefinitely in her atom cloud.  The virtually unfathomable speed of light is, in her laboratory, reduced to commonplace human terms.

Pope Benedict XVI may not know about Prof. Hau and he certainly has never been to her laboratory.  Nevertheless, he long ago grasped what she has now managed to achieve.  In a way, his entire career as a theologian and even his last eight years as pope are characterized by the persistent critique of the modern urge to draw in and enclose, calling the world instead to open up and head outwards.

Deus Caritas EstBenedict’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, is about what is most fundamental to life: love, and in particular, the love of God in which we come to have life.  In Benedict’s biblically informed imagination, this love is not characterized solely as a taking in, but springs forth as outward motion.  In what is perhaps the clearest and most vivid description of love that the encyclical offers, Benedict writes that, for us, “Love… [is] a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self toward its liberation through self-giving, and thus toward authentic self-discovery and indeed discovery of God” (DCE, §6).  Love does not take in and hold on, but rather accepts and gives.  Love moves.

The “closed inward-looking self” is the distinguishing mark of a fallen creation that slows and even traps the light of life.  One of the distinctive phenomena of modernity is that this mark is impressed upon individuals and institutions, persons and peoples, cultures and religions alike.  In attending to the multiple manifestations of this dangerous inwardness, Benedict has really been the first pope of modernity, the one whose vision and ministry from beginning to end was about pointing out this incurving and proclaiming the liberating call of the Gospel in modern life.

The consistency of his thought on this point is evident even from a brief survey of the topics covered in his corpus.  In his economic thought, he espouses a basic vision of the economy that requires gratuitousness in order to function healthily and in accord with the flourishing of individuals and of society as a whole.  GreedAn economy that closes in on the maximization of capital and the accrual of wealth becomes an instrument of dehumanization.  Economies that do not allow for the multiplicity of public interests in the marketplace quickly detach from their fundamental connection to the public good and the value of allowing persons and peoples to beneficially relate to one another through commercial interactions.  All justice, and especially economic justice, requires charity (see Caritas in Veritate).

Benedict considers cultures in similar terms.  For him, cultures arise in accord with the basic definition of the human person—who is a true person to the extent that she is open to others, and ultimately open to God.  Likewise, a culture is a true culture—a healthy culture, a human culture—in large part to the extent that it is open to what is different than itself.  Cultures as a whole are oriented toward interaction and communication, not to isolation and self-preservation.  As Benedict writes, “Whatever elements in any culture exclude such opening up and such cultural exchange represent what is inadequate in a culture, because the exclusion of what is different is contrary to human nature” (Truth and Tolerance, 60).  Thus, cultures do not curve inward and lock otherness out, but rather seek to express themselves outwards and authentically encounter that which is different.

The same dichotomy between enclosing and opening shapes the way in which Benedict views reason itself.  Systems of thought—philosophies—that set up their own limits and standards for verification become closed to the very truth they purport to seek.  The history of philosophy is the story of one self-asserting certainty after another attempting to provide the definitive meaning of everything else.  The only thing that breaks this prideful habit of the human mind is the openness to that which comes from outside of itself: namely, revelation.  Only that which can be taken on faith—as first given before thought up or understood—can release humanity from its addiction to explaining life in its own terms.  Faith is the openness, in trust, to that which—or the One who—comes from outside and unlocks the closed meaninglessness of humanity left to its own devices.  Reason, for Benedict, must open to faith, and faith must serve reason by guiding and correcting it (Introduction to Christianity and Faith and the Future, among others).

A hallmark of modernity is the unwillingness to allow light to pass through on its own terms.  Modernity is averse to transparency.  Modernity is partly characterized by the urge to claim something for oneself, whether for profit, self-promotion, or prestige.  The light is not the thing that matters in modernity; rather, the one who counts is the one can see the light, judge it, seize it and wield it.  This is the foundation of “the dictatorship of relativism,” where individual truths trump any claim to universal truth.  The modern person, institution, and philosophy do not try to speed up or stretch towards the racing light.  They slow the light down to its manner of reckoning.

Holiness, for Benedict, is allowing oneself to be taken up into the quickened life of God.  Saints show the light as it is, not as they wish it to be.  In their intense particularity, saints allow God’s light to shine through them, becoming a “spectacle” for the world to see.  As Benedict testifies, “the Spirit of God has given life with admirable imagination to a multitude of men and women saints, of every age and social condition, of every language, people and culture” (Holiness is Always in Season).  These holy ones do not claim the light for themselves, nor do they seek to slow it down.  Instead, they forget themselves in allowing it to pour forth through their very lives.

This description of holiness is reminiscent of a story we have told at Notre Dame Vision for years.  It is a story that I believe was—at some point—true, though the frequency of its retelling makes the origin less certain.  As the story goes, a young girl is sitting in a church with her father during Sunday morning Mass.  The ones the light shines throughThe light of the mid-morning sun is streaming through the stained-glass windows on the east side of the church, painting the pews in an array of colors.  The girl looks up at the stained-glass, taps her father on the arm, and asks, “Daddy, who are those people in the windows?”  Her father answers, “Well, honey, those are the saints.”  He waits several moments for her to ask her inevitable follow-up question, but the question never comes.  But later that day after Mass, a question does arise when the little girl is sitting in CCD.  Her teacher asks her class if anyone knows who the saints are.  The girl’s hand shoots up into the air, so the teacher calls on her.  With an air of simple certainty she says, “The saints are the ones the light shines through.”

This is what Benedict has been trying to teach us for the last eight years, and for decades before that.  We are not who we are created to be unless we open ourselves up, risk becoming a portal of grace and imagination, and head out of ourselves to others.  This is why he cautioned us against liturgies that create circles of self-reflection and self-admiration, challenging us instead to look together towards the Oriens and the coming of God (Spirit of the Liturgy).  It is why he has repeatedly called us into communion with one another on the basis of the Lord’s Prayer itself, which breaks down our barriers of isolation and consumption for the sake of quickened self-giving.  As he wrote in one of his later books, “the word our [in the Our Father] is really rather demanding: it requires that we step out of the closed circle of our ‘I’. It requires that we surrender ourselves to communion with the children of God” (Jesus of Nazareth, 141).  These words speak to a trust in an identity we are given, not one which we can claim for ourselves, as our own private possession.  Progress and innovation are not the measures of this identity; love alone is.

As Tim O’Malley already observed, this might also be the best way to understand Benedict’s surprising decision to resign his office.  The Pontiff is handing over what was never his to claim: he is letting the light pass through him even if it means that he will disappear from the public eye.  The pope’s words at the Sunday Angelus of February 17 indicate as much: “In the decisive moments of life, or, on closer inspection, at every moment in life, we are at a crossroads: do we want to follow the ‘I’ or God?  The individual interest or the real good, that which is really good?”  In his career as teacher of the faith, he has tried to persuade others of the answer.  In his last act as pope, he is yet again enacting that answer.

The light's the thingC.S. Lewis once wrote that, “[t]he Glory flows into everyone, and back from everyone: like light and mirrors.  But the light’s the thing” (The Great Divorce).  The flowing of the light has been the single preoccupation of Pope Benedict’s ministry.  He continues to challenge the world to avoid becoming clouded in its own complacency, cooled in its own callousness and self-confidence.  Economies are meant for the sharing of goods, cultures for the exchange gifts, and reason for the reception and appreciation of what faith gives.  The liturgy refers us to the God who comes to us, while prayer draws us out of ourselves.

What happens in laboratories is meant to serve man who serves God, not serve man as if he were God.  If a professor at Harvard can slow or even trap light with the use of lasers and table salt, then this too can be used for “that which is really good.”  But the true light of life can never be slowed or trapped, and to seek to do so is to become a contradiction to oneself.  To put oneself, or even the whole world, above the power of this light will only ever prevent the light from being seen.  This light must shine through us, for this light is what Benedict believes saves our world.

“Love is the light—and in the end, the only light—that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working.  Love is possible, and we are able to practice it because we are created in the image of God.  To experience love and in this way cause the light of God to enter into the world—this is the invitation I would like to extend” (Deus Caritas Est, §39).

Reflections on the Creed: Part 12

Ann AstellSr. Ann Astell

Professor, Notre Dame Department of Theology

 

Contact Author

This is the twelfth and final installment 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
Reflections on the Creed: Part 6
Reflections on the Creed: Part 7
Reflections on the Creed: Part 8
Reflections on the Creed: Part 9
Reflections on the Creed: Part 10
Reflections on the Creed: Part 11

“…the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.”

Belief in the resurrection of the body is distinctively Christian. Many of the world’s religions uphold belief in the soul’s immortality and envision some sort of afterlife. Some people find it easier to believe in ghosts than in God. Christian belief in the resurrection of the body is different.  It has its foundation in the resurrection of Jesus, in His triumph over death.  “If Christ is preached as raised from the dead,” writes Saint Paul, “how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Cor 15:12).

Doubting Thomas - Rembrandt van RijnWhen Christ rose from the dead, He did not come back as a ghost.  His resurrected body was truly His body, marked with His wounds (Jn 20:27).  But it had undergone transformation.  The Gospels record that the resurrected Christ suddenly appeared to the Apostles inside a closed room (Jn 20:19).  Just as suddenly, He vanished from the sight of the disciples at Emmaus (Lk 24:31).

Piecing together these accounts with the earlier event of Jesus’s transfiguration on Mount Tabor (Mt 17:2) and the appearance of Jesus in blinding light to Paul (Acts 2:3), ancient and medieval theologians enumerate four gifts or endowments of the glorified body: freedom from suffering, immortality, a shining radiance, and a lightness that enables the body to move quickly above and through surfaces (as when Jesus walked through walls).

The Church’s constant belief is that those who have been baptized into Christ and who share in His Cross through their own suffering and death will also share in His resurrection.  The hope of the faithful Christian is not only the eternal joy of the departed soul in the presence of God, but also the reunion of the soul with its resurrected body at the end of time.

Communion of SaintsSo great a hope, so all-conquering a faith, is hard to comprehend.  The resurrected body will be each one’s very own, the bearer of each one’s personal history and identity.  Yet it is not identical with the mortal body that is buried, that decays, that is eaten (as the bodies of martyrs were) or cremated.  The resurrection of the body is not its resuscitation.  “What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable” (1 Cor 15:42).

Trying to explain this mystery of identity and difference, Saint Paul compares the burial of our mortal body to the planting of a seed, which dies and rises to new life in the form of a plant.  An organic continuity connects the seed to the plant, but they also vary greatly in form.  “What you sow is not the body which is to be,” he writes, “but a bare kernel” (1 Cor 15:35).

The analogy is, of course, inexact. What ancient and medieval theologians emphasized instead is the close bond between body and soul, even after the soul has departed.  Stored in the memory of the departed soul are sensory impressions.  The soul’s delight in God’s presence suffuses the memory, affecting its content.  The visio beata thus prepares the soul to receive its glorified body.  Receiving that gift, the soul’s joy in God overflows into the body’s senses.

An ancient Christian doctrine, traceable back to Origen, maintains that the soul sees, hears, touches, and tastes God through spiritual senses.  These correspond to the physical senses that enable sacramental experiences of God’s presence.  In this mortal existence, the physical senses assist the soul in its reception of grace.  In the life to come, the spiritual senses, enjoying direct contact with God, act upon the physical senses.  From the time of St. Paul, mystical experiences have granted a foretaste of the promised “new heavens and new earth” (Rev 21:1) associated with the end times.

As the Church teaches, Christ’s resurrection has an eschatological consequence:  the general resurrection of all the departed at the end of times, when Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead.   Come, Lord Jesus!

Inklings of a New Evangelization: The Valor of Bilbo

Miriam Marston

Assistant Director of Theology Programs, Theological Institute for the New Evangelization

St. John’s Seminary, Boston, MA

Contact Author

Other columns in series:
The Beacons Are Lit

Of Myths and Maps

Inside the Song

A Word on Wonder

A Word on Tooks
Secondary Worlds and Primary Truths

Escape and the Good Catastrophe
Treebeard and the Language of Reality

“It was at this point that Bilbo stopped.  Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did.  The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it.  He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.” –The Hobbit, Ch. 12

It would be quite easy to say that throughout his entire mythology of Middle Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien devotes hundreds of pages to epic, sweeping battles, larger than life characters and ‘eucatastrophic’ moments on the scale of the Resurrection.  But I think one could just as easily assert that much of the story is actually a succession of smaller, more cloistered moments, which rival even the fiercest and largest battles in terms of their consequence.  The above passage is a good example of this.  In the midst of a grand adventure, Tolkien gives us this minor, almost “in-between” sort of incident, which hardly seems worth the attention that the author bestows upon it.  But its significance is precisely in the special care that Tolkien gives it, because such attentiveness is saying something of great importance to the reader, who might be fighting any number of battles without even leaving the comfort of his own living room chair.

In this turning point of the story (funny how so many turning points could rush past us, nearly unnoticed), Bilbo has just left the company of his friends, and is making his reluctant way to the dragon’s cave, in search of a lost treasure.  But he stops.  Not for long…but just long enough to engage in a mental scuffle with that impulse which tells him to turn back, away from the dragon and the danger.  Of course it would have been easier and more comfortable for Bilbo to turn away from whatever waited for him at the end of the tunnel.  But he was loyal to his friends, and his faithfulness compelled him to go forward. And that decision would set in motion events about which not even the bravest would want to venture a guess.

Tolkien is spot-on about where the real battles are fought.  You and I both know this all too well.  On a cold Monday morning, when the temperature is hovering around 2 degrees, and the prospect of a busy work week looms unpleasantly large….sometimes, it’s a battle just to get two feet on the floor.  Those moments between 7am and 7:05am, when you are locked in a furious fight between your will and your senses: “five more minutes! …  No, get up! … only a few more minutes! …Don’t dawdle, make haste!”  How many times have you had to shake off sleep, in order to attend to your tasks?  I can’t be the only one who spends at least a minute or two every few hours delivering pithy internal motivational speeches.  No one hears them, and no one needs to, because such endeavors don’t require an audience.  As with Bilbo, such tiny triumphs (or defeats) are usually a solitary business, away from the observation and potential admiration (or criticism) of others.

It is difficult not to think of these words from St. Josemaría Escrivá:

“The heroic minute. It is the time fixed for getting up. Without hesitation: a supernatural reflection and … up!.. If, with God’s help, you conquer yourself, you will be well ahead for the rest of the day. It’s so discouraging to find oneself beaten at the first skirmish.” (The Way)

 Here in the dragon’s tunnel, Bilbo demonstrates the heroic minute.  There could have been a thousand things racing through his mind – meals he’d rather be cooking, relatives he’d rather be visiting, naps he’d rather be taking.  We’ll never know the extent of desire and memory that might have arisen in the hobbit’s contemplations, as he made his way towards the ominous glow of Smaug the Dragon, but we do know that he kept going forward.

Not all dragons are exactly the same, and there are numerous conceivable tunnels we could walk down. Perhaps the tunnel of some paralyzing addiction.  Perhaps the dark, winding pass of a gnawing fear, which no one knows about (except, of course, our loving Father in heaven, but sometimes it is so difficult to remember how He knows our hearts better than we know ourselves).   Maybe it’s a crippling anxiety or a confession that’s never been made…all of these things make up the stuff of “real battles”, and it is on this stage that the drama of the spiritual life is played out.  Not with a grandiose musical soundtrack, or with special effects, or the perfectly crafted script.  More often than not, it’s just a daily face-off with this or that dragon (again, they come in many forms and under many names).

It shouldn’t be taken for granted that Bilbo ran ahead, even before he realized the kind of danger “that lay in wait.”  How often have we had to forge ahead (not recklessly, but purposefully), resisting the urge to delay or fall back into complacency, shrugging off those vague (yet powerful) apprehensions of what our actions might mean for the future?  We experience this each time we’ve trembled at the thought of speaking the truth in charity, even if it meant risking the anger of someone we love, or the cooling down of a once-warm friendship.  Even just one decision could very well result in the upheaval of our cherished priorities, without the guarantee that life will ever be the same again.  But Bilbo learns – as we all learn, sooner or later – that feats of courage are not normally the result of a well-calculated scheme.  If all adventures had exquisitely good timing, they would hardly qualify as adventures at all.  We hear Bilbo’s thoughts on the matter, in this exchange with Gandalf:

“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging,
and it’s very difficult to find anyone.”
“I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things!
Make you late for dinner!”

Indeed, they can make you late for dinner…but they can also make you a saint.  At the end of his journey, Bilbo returned home quite a different hobbit.  He no longer fussed over forgotten handkerchiefs or missed dinners, although he was undoubtedly pleased to re-discover both handkerchiefs and regular dinners back in the Shire.  To be sure, his conversion did not occur overnight and only once; for instance, as the company approaches their destination, Tolkien includes an amusing description of Bilbo suffering from a cold.  By this point, the hobbit has already encountered giant spiders, wicked goblins and very ill-tempered trolls…and here he is, beset by the common cold.  He is miserable and homesick.  And he stays the course.  It is the lesser, almost over-looked episodes of courage which, over time, shape our character, smoothing out the rough edges of our self-interest, and turning us into true Christ-bearers – the mission granted to each of us “before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4).  Oh yes, we will still undergo many of the same trials and troubles as before (even Bilbo’s cold shows us that much), but we will encounter such challenges a little differently each time, if we allow ourselves to be transformed by the Refiner’s fire.  And we should not be too discomfited at the prospect:  for if a simple and unassuming hobbit can take on a dragon, and emerge on the other side relatively unscathed, then there is hope for the rest of us.

Love, **actually** is… (part 5)

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

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

 

Also in this series:
Love, **actually** is… (part 4)
Love, **actually** is… (part 3)
Love, **actually** is… (part 2)
Love, **actually** is… (part 1)

Thus far, our treatment of the thirteenth chapter of St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians has examined love in light of the implications for our interactions with others. We have looked to Jesus Himself for examples of how to be patient and kind; how to rise above things like jealousy, the desire for attention or approval, and the self-righteous tendency to judge rather than forgive. On this Valentine’s Day, we come to the culmination of St. Paul’s famous teaching on love and discover what truly self-giving, agape love asks of us.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.

These last two statements seem to expand our horizon farther than those that preceded them, demanding of us an even greater capacity to give of ourselves in love. But what does this look like? When it comes to agape, or self-giving love, what does it mean to bear, believe, hope, and endure all things?

Quite simply, it means the Way of the Cross. If we seek to imitate Christ in our love of others, we must realize that we will also be called upon to imitate Him in His sufferings. In His Passion and Death, Christ modeled for us the outpouring of love to the end: the ultimate self-gift. If we begin to think about what it means to bear, believe, hope, and endure all things in love, then all overly-romantic, picture-perfect, superficial notions of what it means to love another simply disappear.

In bearing all things under the weight of His Cross, Christ becomes a model for the parent who must bear the pain of difficulties with a child, or the son or daughter who must bear the loving burden of caring for an elderly parent. In believing all things by continuing to trust in God even in the depths of His agony, Christ becomes a model for the college student who struggles to maintain faith in the midst of adversity, or the weary social worker who yearns to believe that goodness still exists in the midst a fallen world. In sharing His hope for all things by assuring the gift of paradise to the good thief, Christ becomes a model of hope for the hospice nurse holding vigil at the bedside of the terminal cancer patient, as both hold fast to the promise of eternal life. And in enduring all things to the end by commending His spirit to the Father—offering His very last breath in love—Christ becomes a model for all who endure similar sufferings in mind, body, and spirit, giving them an example of courage so that they might unite their sufferings with His in an outpouring of love.

In seeking to imitate Christ’s life of self-giving love, we also open ourselves up to suffering, for there will always be the risk that our love for others will be met with rejection, hatred, pain, even death. Nevertheless, St. Paul reminds us that “love never fails.” Love has the last word. And in this, we are reminded that Christ’s love did not end in destruction and death, but in Resurrection and glory. And it is only this gift of self in love that can bring forgiveness, healing, fullness of life.

Into the Desert

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

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

 

Today, millions of men, women, and children will have the Sign of the Cross traced in ashes on their foreheads as they embark on the Lenten journey. Each year, the Church gives us this holy season as a time of conversion, a re-turning of heart and mind to the Source of all things. We follow Jesus into the desert—a place of silence, solitude, starkness. In the abundant foliage of Eden, Adam and Eve attempted to hide from God in an effort to conceal their sin; in the vast nothingness of the desert, Jesus confronts temptation openly so that He might become an example to us in our own struggles against that which would lure us from God.

In his final Ash Wednesday address today, Pope Benedict XVI contemplated Jesus’ temptation in the desert, stating:

…the core of the three temptations that Jesus is subjected to … is the proposal to exploit God, to use Him for his own interests, for his own glory and success.
So, in essence, to put himself in the place of God, removing Him from his own existence and making him seem superfluous.
Everyone should then ask: what is the role God in my life?
Is He the Lord or am I?

In the solitude of the desert, one focuses more intently on cultivating a relationship with God. In the silence of the desert, one listens more readily for God’s voice. In the starkness of the desert, one realizes that God is the creator and source of all life, that in fact all life is completely and utterly dependent upon God.

May we enter the desert of this Lenten season, not to exploit it for mere self-improvement or to use it for “[our] own glory and success,” but to follow the example of Jesus as we strive to overcome temptation. May these words of the Holy Father resonate within the silence of our hearts as we strive to “turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel.”

In this time of Lent, in this Year of Faith, we renew our commitment to the process of conversion, to overcoming the tendency to close in on ourselves and instead, to making room for God, looking at our daily reality with His eyes.… Conversion means not closing in on ourselves in the pursuit of success, prestige, position, but making sure that each and every day, in the small things,
truth, faith in God, and love become most important.

Love, **actually** is… (part 4)


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

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

 

Also in this series:
Love, **actually** is… (part 3)
Love, **actually** is… (part 2)
Love, **actually** is… (part 1)

As Valentine’s Day draws ever nearer, we draw nearer to the heart of St. Paul’s message in the thirteenth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians (apologies for the terrible pun). Thus far, we have reflected on what it means to be patient and kind, as well as what it means to not be jealous, pompous, inflated, rude, or self-seeking. This week, mere descriptors of love gradually give way to even more profound truths about what it truly entails, and we continue to look to Jesus as the model of how to live lives of self-giving love.

Love is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury.
Love does not rejoice over wrong-doing, but rejoices with the truth.

In the first of these brief sentences, St. Paul sets up a remarkable contrast: the quickness of the temper versus the slowness of forgiveness. It seems as though the two are established as an inverse relationship: the more readily we give into our temper, the more reluctant we probably are to forgive. The second sentence provides a sort of foil to the first: one who is quick-tempered and broods over injury is also probably the sort of person who rejoices over wrong-doing; however, one who rejoices in the truth transcends all such pettiness. One who rejoices in the truth has indeed been “set free” (cf Jn 8:32) of the need of human validation, the lack of which can so often lead to quick-temperedness, brooding, or schadenfreude. We see this freedom incarnated in Jesus, who is the truth, and who calls us to rejoice in Him so that we might also be set free.

Everyone likes to be right. Whether it’s in class, at work, or even just in conversation, I don’t know a single person who enjoys saying or doing something they believe to be right, only to be told that they’re wrong. Unfortunately for pretty much everyone, not everyone can be right about everything all the time. Even the geniuses get it wrong at some point or another. And realizing that you’re wrong can be a real blow to a person’s pride. When confronted by personal error, I often go into defensive mode, desperate to assert that I can still be right about something. My wounded pride gives way to my quick temper, and pain is the inevitable result. On the other hand, realizing that someone else is wrong can be just as damaging to our ability to love; whether that someone has done something wrong to us, or just done something wrong in general, the human tendency is to hold on to our wounds or nurse a vendetta. All of these reactionary tendencies enslave us to ourselves and cut off our ability to give ourselves in love to others. Jesus shows us a “still more excellent way” (cf 1 Cor 12:31).

Throughout His ministry, Jesus was faced with people who wanted to be right; Pharisees and scholars of the law often sought to trap Jesus in His words, either to prove that they themselves were right, or to prove that He was not who He claimed to be. Think of the famous scene when the scribes and Pharisees confront Jesus with a woman caught in adultery. Their tempers are heated; they are convinced of their own rightness; they are out for blood. The scribes and Pharisees rejoice in the misfortune of this woman and they seize the chance to make an example of her, to exploit her sinfulness as an opportunity to manipulate Jesus. When they demand a similar snap judgment from Jesus, He instead bends down and starts writing in the dirt. In this moment, I imagine that Jesus was praying, asking His Father to enlighten His heart so that He might respond in love for all involved, both the woman and her accusers. And amazingly, He does just that: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (Jn 8:7). In this response, Jesus not only demonstrates unbounded compassion for a sinner, but He also silences her accusers by reminding them of their own fallibility and teaching them the dangers of acting in quick-tempered hatred. And in the next moment, Jesus demonstrates that He does not wish to brood over the woman’s wrongdoing. Instead, He, the sinless One, the only One who could condemn her, forgives her. Jesus does not soften the fact that she has done wrong; he does not rejoice in her wrongdoing by any means, but he calls her to move beyond it. He calls her to the truth. When faced with her remorse, Jesus does not browbeat the woman with her sinful behavior. He does not even give her a stern talking-to. He simply offers her the chance to change, and promises to forget her past actions if she will leave them behind as well, saying, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more” (Jn 8:11). He extends the same offer of love and freedom to us, calling us to move beyond our human pride and sinfulness so that we might rejoice in the truth of the love that forgives.

Practicing the Self-Gift of Lent: The Resignation of Benedict XVI

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

Contact Author

As we are all aware of now, Benedict XVI will resign from the papacy on February 28 for reasons of health.   Watching the Today show this morning while feeding my newborn son, I was by no means surprised to see the anchors caught off guard by the announcement.   Most are unaware of the number of times that Benedict XVI stated quite publicly that if he was unable to fulfill the office of the papacy because of age or heath, he would resign.  Yet, what was surprising was how incredulous each anchor was regarding both the timing and setting of the announcement.  After all, if Matt Lauer was to resign as anchor of the Today show, he would certainly turn it in a rather large affair, making a public announcement during the Today show itself, and then follow this proclamation with frequent interviews (and a series of navel gazing retrospectives, which the Today show has turned into an art form).  In contrast, Benedict made the announcement to a consistory of Cardinals, on a random Monday.

Nonetheless, perhaps the timing is not so random.   On February 13, the Church will turn her attention to the celebration of Ash Wednesday, entering once again into the season of Lent.   She will fast, give alms, and pray.  And her members, the body of Christ, will be invited to participate in this practice of self-gift integral to Lent.  Each of us will be called to a more authentic relationship with Christ, to give up our worship of the idolatry of fame and fortune, of power and prestige, of pride and self-sufficiency, of violence and force.   Instead, we will enter into the school of Christ, the school of self-giving love whereby we learn that the only way to save one’s life is to lose it.  For to us, discipleship is not cultivating our own honor but giving ourselves away in love, to take up the cross and follow Christ.

In some way, Benedict’s resignation is a sermon on how to practice the self-gift of Lent.   As Pope (those of us who have worked in the Church) know that it must have been daunting to imagine acting once again as bishop of Rome during another pastorally busy Lent, the hurried liturgical  life of the Triduum and the subsequent festivity of the Easter season.  But something more is at stake than a papal admission that one isn’t up to the task this time around.

Benedict XVI’s resignation is a radical witness to what authentic discipleship involves, especially when one is the Pope, when it is entirely possible to choose not discipleship but a cultivation of one’s own ego.  To imagine that you, as the Vicar of Christ, should reign with Christ the King.  And that it is your reign, your personality, your presence that will determine the future of the Church.

Benedict XVI’s resignation is a Lenten proclamation that the papacy isn’t about the personal identity of the Pontiff (even if we must acknowledge that this identity does matter to some degree).  It is a sign of unity, an office standing alone from the individual.  To be pope requires a radical conforming of oneself to martyria, self-gift, the witness of love. Such an office is not the individual’s.  It is the Church’s alone.  Benedict knows this better than any Pontiff in recent memory.  In his many gifts to the universal Church as an astute pastoral theologian (which we will look back at during the coming weeks), it is not surprising that he has transformed his resignation into an occasion for a very personal teaching.   Offices in the Church are never irrevocably one’s own but rather a sharing in Christ’s own self-gift of love.  And at times, the only way to fulfill this office, this primary duty at the heart of Christian discipleship (and in the case of Joseph Ratzinger the ordained priesthood radically oriented toward Christ’s self-gift), is to let go.  In this way, not only has Benedict XVI perfectly embodied the theological function of the papacy in the post-conciliar era, he has also become an icon for all those seeking humility, self-gift in the Christian life.

Very few of us in the Church will have to let go of being Pope.  But each day, we are faced with opportunities for self-gift, for letting go of our office for the sake of love.  During this season of Lent, Benedict XVI has given each of us something to ponder.  The pastor of a parish can see in Benedict’s self-gift a revelation of his own office not as powerful dictator, not as connected to his own charismatic personality, not as boss of a bureaucratic organization,  but as an office lent to him by the Church and fulfilled solely in his growing capacity for love.  The father and mother can look into their rapidly growing child’s eyes and acknowledge that the office of father and motherhood is not simply about exerting influence in the life of another but in letting their child go, even if this gift requires enormous pain and separation.  The heart of every office in Christianity, every duty is love.

Thus, Benedict XVI’s timing isn’t simply an accident.   It’s a kind of Lenten sermon about the need for each Christian, for all those who locate themselves under the banner of Christ’s reign, to give up the search for eternal power.   And to enter more deeply into that office of the baptized priesthood, of that radical self-gift necessary for discipleship in the Christian life.   If Benedict can give up being Pope, then surely I too can give up the power and prestige I attach to being a professor at a prestigious university, to being a father of a rather cute son, to being a mentor to excellent students.   There is one office alone, one office that matters, and that’s Christ’s office of self-gift.

And thus, we have in Benedict a further teaching about the next Pontiff.   The media will begin to speculate about the papabile and their qualifications.   They will wonder, will the next Pope be conservative?   Will he be liberal?   What changes will he enact in the Church?  Where will he be from?   Such questions miss the mark.   Benedict has focused our attention on a different qualification entirely:   can the next Pope give the office up?   Does the next Pope know that his election is not about himself but about the Church?     During Lent, let us pray that the Church will receive such a leader.  And may we ourselves become the sort of people, who can let everything go for the sake of love.

Online Registration for the 2013 Symposium Now Available

Register now for the 2013 Symposium

Beloved Children, Imitators of God:
Deification and the Sacraments of Initiation
June 17 – 20, 2013

The 2013 Symposium, focusing on the sacraments of initiation, explores how baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist transform us into beloved children, imitators of God (cf. Ephesians 5:1).  The central theological theme of the 2013 Symposium is deification, the process of sanctification in which human beings enter into the divine life.

Topics to be treated include the Trinitarian context of initiation; images of deification in baptismal and Eucharistic prayers; initiation and art; confirmation and deification; initiation and the sanctification of culture; and, the communion of saints.

Click here to register online, or email ndcl@nd.edu for more information.

Teachers include:

Kimberly Belcher, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Theology
St. John’s School of Theology/Seminary, Collegeville, Minnesota

Hosffman Ospino, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Faculty Director for Hispanic MInistry Programs
Boston College, School of Theology and Ministry, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts

Maxwell Johnson, Ph.D.
Professor of Liturgical Studies
University of Notre Dame, Department of Theology, Notre Dame, Indiana

Robin Jensen, Ph.D.
Luce Chancellor’s Professor of the History of Christian Art and Worship
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee

Nicholas Denysenko, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Theological Studies
Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, California

Andrew Casad, M.T.S.
Director of Liturgy and the Catechumenate
St. Thomas More Catholic Church, Chapel Hill, NC
STEP Facilitator

Leonard DeLorenzo, M.A.
Director, Notre Dame Vision
Doctoral Student, Systematic Theology, University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN