Planned Parenthood and the Disease of Decadence

Jessica Keating_headshotJessica Keating, M.Div.
Program Director,
Human Dignity and Life Initiatives
University of Notre Dame

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The unfolding events surrounding Planned Parenthood have brought into view the macabre business of harvesting and selling fetal organs and body parts. They have also shown what happens when the human body is reduced to its component parts and stripped it of moral content. The grammar of cultural decadence comes into full view.

Planned Parenthood presents us with the grammar and vision of decadence, a concrete instantiation of an economy that kills. This is vision devoid of wonder, a vision which corrodes our capacity to see and makes the collective gaze increasingly myopic. Such a vision demands that we cast a narrow gaze upon the world and upon other humans. Such a vision demands we see a fantastic catalog of pieces of data, and unsee the meaning of the whole. Creation is reduced to a heap of facts and resources. The human person is reduced a pile of appendages.

Camille-Paglia-Sexual-Personae-e1365035269976Such a vision characterizes the disease of decadence. In her masterpiece, Sexual Personae, art historian and cultural critic Camille Paglia writes that decadence is “a disease of the western eye” which sees the body “as form stripped of meaning” (419). Decadence requires us to both see and not see reality in a particular way, as it trains the eye to dissolve the whole into its parts. It encourages practices that are glossed with neutral language, “products of conception,” “medical waste,” as they systematically coarsen our vision of the human person and make every one of us a potential commodity.

The videos released over the past two weeks by the Center for Medical Progress bring into focus the extent to which the modern practice and grammar of abortion epitomize cultural decadence by reducing the human person in both speech and practice to a dismembered catalog of parts.

timthumbIn the first video, Dr. Nocatola discusses with the coolness and precision characteristic of the kind of decadence evident in the writings of the Marques de Sade, those parts of the unborn child that are valuable and exactly how to dismember him in order to ensure “getting it all in tact.” Rhetorically she describes the unborn child as valuable in his component parts, thus affirming his humanness while denying his humanity. She speaks of lungs, hearts, livers, lower extremities, muscle, explaining how she alters the abortion procedure and manipulates the unborn body of the unborn children into the breech position in order to procure in tact organs.

Gone, even if only for a moment, is the “neutral” grammar that typically cloaks abortion— “women’s reproductive freedom,” “choice,” “building futures and pursuing goals,” “compassionate care.” Gone, even if only for a moment, is the possibility of an abstract assent to abortion. Dr. Nocatola discusses the parts of the human fetus that have economic, legal, and scientific value, despite belonging to a human being who retains no value or legal status. Reduced to her component parts, the unborn fetus will be crushed in a certain way so as to preserve those parts that have value.

Such “shop talk,” as it was called on NPR last week is formed by a habit of coarseness and desensitization. The ease with which these doctors speak of more and less “crunchy” techniques for abortion, discuss the systematic dismembering of the unborn, and bargain over the market value of fetal organs demands a coarseness of vision, which reduces the human person to her parts.

To see as Drs. Nocatola and Gatter see requires, on the one hand, an aversion of the eye so as not to perceive the humanity of the unborn. On the other hand, it requires a kind of precise, myopic, even voyeuristic sight which exalts the concrete parts of the unborn—her limbs, her heart, her lungs, and her liver—which are procured with meticulous care, catalogued, then shipped. The rest is just thrown away.

There is an interplay between the coarseness of decadence as a disease of the eye and the decadence’s economic inflection. In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis describes such an “economics of exclusion” in which “human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and discarded” (no. 53).

weepingmotherofgodofthesignatnovgorodDespite Cecile Richards’ attempts to redirect our gaze away from Planned Parenthood’s practices, these videos expose the lie of abortion. They reveal a narrative of contradiction. The logic of Planned Parenthood would have us to wonder at the scientific advances that may be made with the unborn fetus’s organs, while believing that the unborn fetus is utterly un-wonderful. It would have us deny his humanity, but procure his human organs. It would have us look away and refuse to perceive that the one on whom we gaze is a human person. And insofar as we do avert our gaze, we participate in the banal business of destroying human beings.

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What We’re Reading Today: Gethsemane, Biblical Observations, and a God of Surprises

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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1) Jason Baguia, over at Dappled Things, on peace in Gethsemane:

Kate, whom I happened to meet when I sat by the garden on one such day confirmed what I had begun to suspect. A spirit of discord has possessed many of the youngest kids in the Terra Sancta. She had come over from Hamburg in Germany, and before that, from Ukraine, her home that she preferred to keep from the spotlight if conflict alone drew to it the world’s eyes and ears.

Passing through one of Jerusalem’s narrow, pilgrim-smoothened pavements, she walked into a group of boys at play. When they noticed her, they all motioned as if to kick her in the rear. It did not really matter, she told me with a smile and hand wave. Oh, if only she did not share the story after I recounted to her how some of the boys chilled my own spine.

2) America Magazine’s Joan E. Denton on scientific observations from our biblical ancestors:

Our Hebrew ancestors wrote the Bible informed by their observations of creation. Because their reflections on God were written within that context, they possessed a wisdom about the material world that can be amazingly accurate. Through three examples from the sciences of chemistry, astronomy and physics, we can see that even though they lacked sophisticated modern technology, our Biblical ancestors were keenly astute in their perceptions and descriptions of creation. Such renewed respect for the authors of the Bible can inform and strengthen our faith in God as Creator.

3) Notre Dame professor Phil Sakimoto writes in Ethika Politika on the ‘God of surprises:’

Writing in the New York Times two physicists, Adam Frank of the University of Rochester and Marcelo Gleiser of Dartmouth College, explore the idea that physics has moved beyond the point at which empirical verification is possible or even necessary.  The debate, as they describe it, arises from suggestions by some physicists that we should “set aside the need for experimental confirmation of today’s most ambitious cosmic theories — so long as those theories are ‘sufficiently elegant and explanatory.’”

I understand this position.  I love a good theory.  But I don’t agree with it.sakimoto

A Look Back: Insights from Symposium 2015

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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Note from the Editor: 

As many of you know, the Center for Liturgy held its annual symposium this past June 8-11 on the University of Notre Dame’s campus. Themed “Liturgy and Vocation,” the 2015 symposium explored the biblical, liturgical, pastoral and theological implications of the rites of marriage and ordination for the Church today. In the words of Liturgical theologian Alexander Schmemann:

… some of us are married and some are not. Some of us are called to be priests and ministers and some are not. But the sacraments of matrimony and priesthood concern all of us, because they concern our life as vocation. The meaning, the essence and the end of all vocation, is the mystery of Christ and the Church. It is through the Church that each one of us finds that the vocation of all vocations is to follow Christ in the fullness of his priesthood: in His love for man and the world, His love for their ultimate fulfillment in the abundant life of the Kingdom (For the Life of the World, 94).

Looking back on the gathering this past June, we present to you here today and tomorrow two brief insights from symposium participants, each coming from a distinct pastoral context. The first is by Fr. John P. Mack, director of pre-theology at Christ the King Seminary and a priest for the diocese of Buffalo:

983783_10201284294895383_1384152385_nRev. John P. Mack

Diocese of Buffalo, New York

So many things to say and so little time…   

Perhaps the stirring of creativity occurred within the context of our Tuesday evening gathering, our conversation about mutual observations from a ministerial priest and a married couple regarding the formation needs of each other’s sacrament.  The convergence created a deeper awareness of enrichment in such an expression of mutuality through sharing insights from each perspective about these unique salvific sacraments, since this rarely occurs as we tend to “tend” to our own particular areas of concern.  Unique formation needs for engaged and married couples as well as candidates for initial and continuing ministerial priestly formation often share a common concern regarding “human” formation.  Are those participating in and receiving these sacraments as Gift able to freely and fully respond to a “call,” mentally, emotionally and spiritually? The question with which we need to begin for those who prepare to receive these sacraments is, “Is this a good person?” and are they “docile” or open to learning, growing, developing in holiness through a redeemed humanity?

A vocation crisis in sacramental marriage and ordained ministry overlaps in the arena of human personhood as well as a self-understanding of how each particular sacrament serves the Christ-communion, whether within the family of the domestic church, the presbyterate of the local Church, or a concrete parish faith community.

Yet, in its Greek roots, crisis serves as turning point, decision-time, an opportunity for re-examination and re-appropriation of our ecclesial self-understanding as expressed in these two “vocational” sacraments which are much more similarly related than has been given credit, especially in our either-or, dualistic society.  The already-present emphasis on the particular sacramental day, the Wedding Day and Ordination Day, provides an opportunity to allow the “public” nature of those Christ-centered rituals to shape the gifted nature of these particular callings as directed to and for the people of God through the transformative nature of the Self-Giving Love of Christ in the Paschal Mystery as the beating heart of the Church.


What We’re Reading Today: Laudato Si, Christian Intellectual Tradition, and the Sacraments

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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1) In his post “Is Ecology Haunted? An Ecocritic Reads Laudato Si,” Doug Sikkema writes on ecology and Dante, in light of Laudato Si:

[…] I blame Dante. A few years ago, I noticed that the more literature I read from the early to mid-twentieth century, the more I found Dante lurking between the lines. Why this fascination with the Florentine poet—this paragon of Christian thought—at the dawn of a post-Christian, secular age? As Christianity waned, writers throughout the century sought alternatives to Dante’s transcendently charged cosmos: fascism, socialism, Buddhism, atheism, even the occult; many left Christianity; some went mad, others committed suicide. Yet they were all haunted by Dante’s voice echoing through the centuries, demanding a response.

2) Robert L. Wilken, professor of History of Christianity at the University of Virginia, on the Christian intellectual tradition:

Unless one is an unchastened Jamesian, religion is communal, and for religious men and women, the challenge is not only to keep the faith for ourselves but also to hand it on to the next generation. Only with difficulty and imagination can we transmit our experiences to those after us who feel, think, and act differently than we do. For the task of handing on the faith, the warm heart is insufficient, as the parent who is “born again” or “converted” soon realizes when facing the task of religious instruction.

3) Billy Kangas on “why the Sacraments kept me Christian:”050

One of the most tragic things about the division of the churches in the west after the Protestant reformation was the loss of an understanding of the sacramental dimension of God’s gracious working in the life of the church. Even my Lutheran upbringing left me unaware of this.

The Gift of Millennials: Some Addenda

Tim O'MalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Patheos recently invited me to offer some reflections on the future of the American Catholic Church. As one who has begun to think culturally and theologically about the place of millennials in American Catholicism, I suggested that many of the best formed millennial Catholics (recognizing that this is not everyone) may serve as “signs” of an integral Catholicism that has no interest in conforming itself to liberal and conservative ideologies drawn from the political sphere (see article from the National Catholic Register further taking up this line of thought).

Yet, in a short piece, not every argument could be made, and I wanted to offer a couple of addenda for readers of Oblation:

The creation of local movements not a top-down approach:

I have noted ironically in the past that while attending both academic theological conferences and national ecclesial gatherings that the word millennial is most frequently uttered either in the context of blame or befuddlement. They are blamed because they don’t show up or when they do show up, they are “too conservative.” That is, they participate in Eucharistic adoration or don’t have a desire to deconstruct hierarchical blunders. Befuddlement arises because so many of those who run these organizations have themselves not been in contact with anyone below the age of fifty for a while. In fact, they have created organizational structures in which leadership is something bestowed only to those who “serve the party faithfully” for a significant quantity of time.

FrancisofAssisiFor this reason, millennials will transform the Church most effectively not through national-level ecclesial organizations (or academic ones) but local movements. The Church has perpetually been renewed throughout her history by such local movements. The Holy See in Rome does not create St. Francis’ or Dorothy Days. The Franciscans arose in Assisi. Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker came about through a house of hospitality in New York.

Such a local approach is not simply a proper reflection of the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council. After all, the Council did not create a “House of Lay People” to stand alongside the “Senate of Bishops.” Rather, it noted that the Church gathered in a local place is the universal Church, carrying out her mission in the world. This approach may in fact be appealing to certain millennials, who are easily taken in by forms of advertising that appeal to the “organic” and “local” philosophy to food production, craft brewing, etc. We need national level organizations and the USCCB, of course, for good reasons. But, the renewal of the Church takes place in local communities within parishes. Institutional change only occurs when the rest of the Church begins to recognize the genius of the local movements for the flourishing of the Church’s mission in the world.

The more diversity of local movements, the better

I have been to Franciscan University at Steubenville on two separate occasions (once for a conference, another time for a site visit for strategic planning). Universally, those I talked to would introduce me to the Household Life that pervades campus. Households are various ways to organize spiritual life on campus not through formal programming through an Office of Campus Ministry but through the students’ own initiative. Households may gather around the Blessed Virgin Mary, Eucharistic devotion, lay evangelization, etc. At present, there are 50 Households of campus, all of whom have a unique charism.

FranciscanThe genius of the household system (if one can call it a system) is that it creates a space in which a particular charism is both honored, yet in held in tension next to other charisms. To exist as a household within a system of households is necessarily to acknowledge that your charism is not an exclusive charism. In this way, the more households, the better! And when the household has ceased to address the needs of the students, when members are no longer interested in joining, then it is time to let that household end.

It strikes me that with millennials, if local movements are a necessary good, then we need to make sure that such movements are as diverse as the Church herself is intended to be. There will be local movements concerned with Eucharistic devotion, with service to the poor, with care for creation, with working to end abortion and support those in crisis pregnancies, and on and on.

The problem with contemporary parish life (or approaches to formation) is that it tends to want less diversity within the parish. It tends to argue that every liturgy within the parish on a weekend should be exactly the same (no distinctions in music, etc.). It tends to form organizations within the parish that are congruent with the spiritual and theological presumptions of the particular parish staff.

Yet, if we are serious about local movements within the Church, then we have to recognize that the more, the better. The work of the parish staff is not to run programming in such instances. Rather, it is to offer a coherent narrative of identity in Christ that is possible in the midst of the diversity. It is forming the local movements to recognize that the Catholics who participate in the weekly Latin Mass are not some virus in your midst (and vice versa). That those who are seeking greater knowledge of Ignatian spiritual practice and not daily Eucharistic adoration are not heretics among us. In other words, the diversity of movements requires us to recognize what actually constitutes the Church, even at the parish level.

I see this diversity as attractive to millennials. When I speak to my undergraduates about post-graduate plans, they want formation. But they don’t want a formation that will reduce them to being the same as everyone else. They don’t want a formation that means giving up every aspect of their identities to become just another cog in the machine. Parish life often requires precisely this. A diversity of movements could be a gift to the Church.

Millennials Also Need To Be Evangelized

The fact remains that only a smattering of millennials are actually engaged in the life of the Church in any significant manner. 10% of emerging adults (18-23 year olds) will attend Mass once a month (this is now considered an active Catholic). It’s just as likely to meet a millennial who has no commitment to institutional religion, beyond infant baptism and first communion.  Numbers of those asking for infant baptism itself, together with marriage, have dropped significantly over the last ten years.

Millennials thus are not simply responsible for transforming theTheologyonTap Church. Rather, they require their own evangelization. Millennials need to perceive again the value of a sacramental and institutional religious faith, grounded in the incarnation. They need to see alternative forms of human flourishing, which are not linked to market economies. They need to encounter an understanding of marriage in which commitment is perceived as gift rather than something to be run away from. Parishes are presently set up not so much as missions to those on the margins but as locations where it is expected that you come to the parish if you’re interested. Parishes need to experiment with ways of inviting millennials into parish life not through the structures of parish life alone but through person-to-person evangelization in the context of work and social life alike.  If parishes continue to wait around for millennials to show up, it is likely that millennials will become (at least among church-goers) the lost generation.


What We’re Reading Today: Mary Magdalene, sacred silence, and spiritual boredom

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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1) Notre Dame PhD candidate Lorraine Cuddeback contemplates the witness of Mary Magdalene:

The hope that Mary Magdalene brings to us is not a hope that ignores the violence around us. It is a hope that knows and shares our despair and grief. After the violence and deaths we may experience, it is a hope that remains.mary-magdalene-icon

2) Bruce Morrill at ‘Pray Tell’ on the period of silence after the opening prayer of the Mass:

But this time for silent prayer, I am arguing passionately, is integral to full, conscious, active participation in the liturgy of the Lord’s Day.

3) Word on Fire’s Chris Hazell on sin, happiness, and spiritual boredom:

I think part of what makes such a descent so easy for us is the comfort our modern lives afford. We aren’t ever hungry, thirsty, cold, warm or lacking in any basic need. Instead, we have constant recourse to a host of pleasures and goods that literally—only kings had in the past. Our potential for the good life—what modernity in all its brilliance can lift us up to achieve—seems limitless. Yet, even in the midst of this great human achievement, we see an undercurrent of something. It’s a dulled monotony seeping out from behind a culture of consumerism, pleasure, entertainment, excess. It’s boredom. Many people aren’t happy or sad, they’re just bored. Bored. Bored. Bored.

What We’re Reading Today: theology of the papacy, violence, and pilgrimage

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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1) Dr. William Luckey in Homiletic & Pastoral Review on the oft forgotten and obscured aspects of the papacy:

The Church, as can be clearly seen in the following quotations, expects the bishop to be a mirror of Christ in every way. The Catechism of the Catholic Church points out that the bishops sanctify the church by their ministry of Word and sacrament, but also by their word and example, “not as domineering over those in {their} charge but being examples to the flock.” 15 So, above all, the bishop, any bishop, should be a shining example of Christian life in every respect.


2) Daniel Stewart’s response to critics of Flannery O’Connor who warn against reading her works due to the prevalence of violence in her writing:

[…] But this understanding of O’Connor’s writing is, quite simply, wrong. Violence isn’t a tool used to deliver a message; violence is the message. But how could this be for a Catholic author who is supposed to be writing about Catholic things? Isn’t the Gospel about love and life, not violence and death?

3) An excellent piece from Michael Rennier at “Dappled Things” on pilgrimage and suffering:

Our-Lady-of-Guadalupe-shrine2-300x200In fact, I believe that the struggle to simply get there is a vital part of the pilgrimage itself. The struggle experienced is but a minor reminder of the true spiritual struggle of a pilgrim. Perhaps it is our belief that to be a follow of Christ is to become comfortably happy and blessed in this life. This is not what the faith teaches. Our Lord offers not relief from suffering; instead he joins us in it.

Jesus’ Grandparents: Saints Anna and Joachim

Danielle Peters-cropDanielle M. Peters, S.T.D.

Secular Institute of the Schoenstatt, Sisters of Mary

Post-Doctoral Fellow, Institute for Church Life, University of Notre Dame
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This Sunday (July 26) the Catholic Church celebrates the parents of Mary whose names, according to the apocryphal Protogospel of St. James (PGJ), are Anna and Joachim. It is clear that we would not (need to) know anything about this couple, had they not been Jesus’ grandparents. Jesus’ genealogy in the Gospel of St. Matthew delineates the ancestors of St. Joseph. But since St. Joseph is not Jesus’ biological father, we are naturally also, if not more, interested in Jesus’ maternal ancestors.

The story told in PGJ relates that after years of waiting for a child, an angel appeared to Joachim and Anna separately with the good news that their desire for a child would be fulfilled. According to medieval Greek-Orthodox tradition, Joachim retired to Wâdî Qilt, located in the desert between Jerusalem and Jericho. There he stayed in the same cave where the prophet Elija hid and was nourished by ravens (1 Kings 17:3f.).  Wall paintings of Joachim and Anna can still be seen today in Elija’s Cave Church. Joachim’s seclusion and subsequent encounter with the angel is recounted in PGJ:

And Joachim called to mind the patriarch Abraham that in the last day God gave him a son Isaac. And he was exceedingly grieved, and did not come into the presence of his wife; but he retired to the desert, and there pitched his tent, and fasted forty days and forty nights (PGJ 1:3f). … And an angel of the Lord went down to him, saying: Joachim, Joachim, the Lord God hath heard thy prayer. Go down hence; for, behold, thy wife Anna shall conceive (PGJ 4:2).

St. Joachim & AngelAt the same time Anna struggled through her own period of abandonment before encountering the heavenly messenger:

Anna mourned … and lamented … saying: ‘I shall bewail my childlessness.’ … And gazing towards the heaven, she saw a sparrow’s nest in the laurel … And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood by, saying: ‘Anna, Anna, the Lord hath heard thy prayer, and thou shalt conceive, and shall bring forth, and thy seed shall be spoken of in all the world.’ And Anna said: “As the Lord my God liveth, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God, and it shall minister to Him in holy things all the days of its life’” (PGJ 2ff).

At the entrance of Wâdî Qilt is a cave with two rooms which Bedouins and shepherds of this area named “Dair al-Banat,” Cloister of Virgins. They maintain that it was here where Anna thanked God that she had conceived a child. Anna promised to dedicate this child to God, much the way that Samuel was dedicated by his mother Hannah in 1 Kings. According to pious tradition, the Virgin Mary was born in a cave near the Bethesda Pool where her Son Jesus would one day perform miracles:

“Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades” (Jn 5:2).

Anna’s husband, the shepherd Joachim (PGJ 4:3f), was familiar with this sight. Near the Sheep Gate was a grotto which was used as a maternity grotto and which later became the crypt of St. Anna Church.

And Anna’s months were fulfilled, and in the ninth month Anna brought forth. And she said to the midwife: What have I brought forth? And she said: a girl. And said Anna: My soul has been magnified this day. And she laid her down. And the days having been fulfilled, Anna was purified, and gave the breast to the child, and called her name Mary (PGJ 5:3).

Coptic tradition holds that Mary was born on a Sunday, the 1 Baschons (May 9), and that she stayed with her parents for the following two years, seven months and seven days. The Protogospel of James situates Mary’s birth in Jerusalem so that her presentation in the temple at age three could occur close to her parent’s home.

And the child was three years old, and Joachim said: Invite the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them stand with the lamps burning, that the child may not turn back, and her heart be captivated from the temple of the Lord. And they did so until they went up into the temple of the Lord. And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: “The Lord has magnified thy name in all generations. In thee, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel.” And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her. And her parents went down marveling, and praising the Lord God, because the child had not turned back. (PGJ 7:2ff – 8:1)

Coptic tradition also relates that Mary’s father Joachim died when she was six years old and Anna when Mary was eight. Accordingly Jesus would not have met his grandparents. Still, in some parishes, the memorial of Anna and Joachim is celebrated as grandparents’ day! Two years ago Pope Francis, while in Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day, recalled the importance of parents and grandparents for the healthy upbringing of children and youth. He said:

Today the Church celebrates the parents of the Virgin Mary, the grandparents of Jesus, Saints Joachim and Anne. In their home, Mary came into the world, accompanied by the extraordinary mystery of the Immaculate Conception. Mary grew up in the home of Joachim and Anne; she was surrounded by their love and faith: in their home she learned to listen to the Lord and to follow his will. Saints Joachim and Anne were part of a long chain of people who had transmitted their faith and love for God, expressed in the warmth and love of family life, down to Mary, who received the Son of God in her womb and who gave him to the world, to us.How precious is the family as the privileged place for transmitting the faith!

“Speaking about family life,” the Holy Father continued:

I would like to say one thing: today, as Brazil and the Church around the world celebrate this feast of Saints Joachim and Anne, Grandparents Day is also being celebrated. How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every society! How important it is to have intergenerational exchanges and dialogue, especially within the context of the

In this context the pope cited the Aparecida Document of the Latin American Bishops Conference, which notes that “Children and the elderly build the future of peoples: children because they lead history forward, the elderly because they transmit the experience and wisdom of their lives” (No. 447). Hence the vital need for this relationship and this dialogue between generations to be preserved and strengthened as a treasure. For this reason, the pontiff invited the world’s youth to “salute their grandparents with great affection and to thank them for the ongoing witness of their wisdom.” In a general audience on March 11, 2015, Pope Francis again underscored the importance and treasure of “grandfathers and grandmothers (who) form the enduring chorus of a great spiritual sanctuary, where prayers of supplication and songs of praise sustain the community which toils and struggles in the field of life.”

Hopefully we, too, have experienced our grandparents as a “spiritual sanctuary” where our natural and supernatural needs were quenched. We do well to recall stories and events from our childhood which have profoundly influenced who we are. Pope Francis emphasizes in the same audience that in our hectic world, the tranquility radiating from “grandparents and the elderly is a great gift for the Church, it is a treasure!” If found it is “a great injection of wisdom for the whole of human society.” Most importantly, the pope reminds grandparents of their urgent apostolate to pray: “We need old people who pray because this is the very purpose of old age. The prayer of the elderly is a beautiful thing.” (emphasis added)

GrandparentsThe commemoration of the feast of Saints Joachim and Anna, can be an opportunity for us to thank for our grandparents, living or deceased, by recalling specific memories, gestures, or testimonies which have impacted our life. Pope Francis gives us this example: “I still carry with me, always, in my breviary, the words my grandmother consigned to me in writing on the day of my priestly ordination. I read them often and they do me good.” Let us not forget to include our grandparents in our prayers perhaps by using a prayer composed by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI in 2008 for the Catholic Grandparents Association: 

Lord Jesus, you were born of the Virgin Mary, the daughter of Saints Joachim and Anne. Look with love on grandparents the world over. Protect them! They are a source of enrichment for families, for the Church and for all of society. Support them! As they grow older, may they continue to be for their families strong pillars of Gospel faith, guardian of noble domestic ideals, living treasuries of sound religious traditions. Make them teachers of wisdom and courage, that they may pass on to future generations the fruits of their mature human and spiritual experience.

Lord Jesus, help families and society to value the presence and roles of grandparents. May they never be ignored or excluded, but always encounter respect and love. Help them to live serenely and to feel welcomed in all the years of life which you give them. Mary, Mother of all the living, keep grandparents constantly in your care, accompany them on their earthly pilgrimage, and by your prayers, grant that all families may one day be reunited in our heavenly homeland, where you await all humanity for the great embrace of life without end. Amen!

The Truth About Staying True

Tim Kenney

Timothy J. Kenney

’14 MTS Candidate 

Boston College School of Theology and Ministry

This year’s Country-music-season (my new name for summer) was kicked off by the non-Country star Andy Grammer and his hit “Honey I’m Good.” If you don’t already know it, be warned this song is crazy catchy and will be in your head for days. The quick [PG] synopsis goes as follows: This is the story of a guy who is approached by a girl in a bar, but turns her down because he’s in a committed loving relationship with another girl who is at home. Needless to say that’s painting with a rather broad brush, but you get the general picture. Again, if you have a few days to spend humming this song everywhere you go, give it a quick listen.

Grammer has said publicly in both interviews and at concerts that this song is meant to be “a relationship anthem.” And its easy to see why. We can’t help but cheer on the singer as he celebrates staying true to his love at home. And yet right in that moment, we’re caught off guard by the situation surrounding him and its hard not to feel a little uncomfortable with what just occurred.

[Verse 1]

It’s been a long night here, and a long night there

And these long long legs are damn near everywhere

(hold up now)

You look good, I will not lie

But if you ask where I’m staying tonight

I gotta be like oh, baby, no, baby, you got me all wrong, baby

My baby’s already got all of my love

When he tells her “oh, baby, no baby, you got me all wrong, baby,” it catches the listener completely by surprise, and rightly so. unnamedWhat at first seems like its going to be a song about hooking up in a bar is actually a ballad to monogamy? Wait what?? The opening lines of the song make it seem like this guy is into this girl and the surprise twist that he’s in a relationship is really only effective because it’s inconsistent with his actions. The guy who is checking out legs everywhere, and particularly the girl he’s talking to, out of nowhere shuts her down and admits, “My baby’s already got all my love.”

[Verse 2]

Now better men, than me have failed

Drinking from that unholy grail

(Now check it out)

I got her, and she got me

And you’ve got that ***, but I kindly

Gotta be like oh, baby, no, baby, you got me all wrong, baby

My baby’s already got all of my love 



Oh, I’m sure ya, sure ya will make somebody’s night

But, oh, I assure ya, assure ya, it sure as hell’s not mine

Certainly being in a relationship doesn’t automatically exclude you from all interactions with members of the opposite sex. It shouldn’t keep you from going out and meeting new people, making friends, and enjoy healthy relationships. But this isn’t some innocent conversation we’re talking about. All we know about this interaction is what the singer tells us and throughout the song he mentions nothing about the girl he’s talking to that doesn’t have to do with her looks or sex. All of the dialogue we see between them shows the guy treating her like an object, something he can’t have but that’s really going to “make somebody’s night.” There isn’t a hint that he thinks of her in any other way which forces us, the listeners, to ask: why are you still in this situation? If this girl doesn’t make this guy think about anything other than her body and sex, why didn’t he remove himself from that temptation long before it came to this? He ends by asserting his love belongs to someone else and that he’s going to stay true to her, but hasn’t a line already been crossed? Christ warns in Matthew 5:27-28:

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

What if we flipped perspectives in the song and heard it as a story he was telling to his wife or girlfriend upon returning home? Is he really the knight in shining armor because he rejected the advances of a girl who he’d been flirting with all night?matthew-527-28 This song is celebrating relationships, but the fidelity it presents is conditional and circumstantial. Consider the song from the perspective of the girl in the bar: she’s enjoying herself and liking the guy she’s talking to, making herself vulnerable to another person and suddenly finds out she was just something hot and fun for him to look at and talk to before he went back to his real life?

The issue here has nothing to do with the fact that this girl hit on someone who ended up being in a relationship. She clearly didn’t know so there’s nothing malicious in it. In addition, there may well have been no way for him to avoid the situation so we shouldn’t blame him just for being there. But there’s clearly something else going on here that we aren’t told about, a temptation that he has to cut off before things go to far. Otherwise his rejection doesn’t make sense because we haven’t seen her make any advances on him. Grammer, introducing this song at a concert, made it clear that this song is talking about precisely the temptation this kind of situation can create.

“Everybody know’s there’s temptation out there. If you say there’s not you’re a liar. But there’s a lot of […] couples doing it right, I wrote this one for you.”

Pair that with the song’s chorus and it says something interesting about this temptation:


So nah nah honey, I’m good

I could have another but I probably should not

I got somebody at home,

And if I stay I might not leave alone

No, honey, I’m good

I could have another but I probably should not

I gotta bid you adieu

To another I will stay true

(ooh ooh I will stay true)

(ooh ooh I will stay true)

This view of temptation leaves the end result open and ambiguous. It treats temptation as a risk, something you know you should avoid to be safe, but could probably get away with just a little. It still gives a bit of a rush without going too far over the line to the point that you’ve done something really wrong. The song’s use of “probably” and “might” in the chorus make it clear there’s still some ambiguity as to whether or not he’s going home with her. We have to stop and ask, is this uncertainty really worth it? Is it worth putting yourself in such a dangerous position as this, being one bad decision away from ruining your marriage or relationship, just to talk to someone in a bar? It puts an unnecessary amount of pressure on his ability to make one right decision in order to save himself from doing something terrible.

Temptation_of_ChristWe can turn here to the example of Christ’s own temptations in the desert as both confirmation and clarification on this matter. We see in it that Grammer is right: temptation is out there and it cannot always be avoided. Sinless as he was, Christ still experienced temptation and had to reject it and remain faithful to the Father. He doesn’t dabble in the temptation before he rebuffs Satan’s offer, he recognizes the situation and solidifies his fidelity. It is precisely in this moment of struggle that Christ defies his tempter and clings to his Father, staying true to the Truth.

By giving in to the small temptation, even though it didn’t lead to anything and allowed him to stay “true,” the singer still left the woman he loves out of his heart. He may have gone home alone, but he left her alone as well. The commitment of love, shared by all of those couples Andy Grammer is saluting, can’t be set aside for a time and then recovered when its not a burden. That weakens it and makes it impossible to sustain. And yet, there is still room in the end for Christ to have the final word. Regardless of whether or not the singer should have been in this situation, we see him ultimately reject the temptation before him and reaffirm his commitment to love. We can only celebrate his action if we learn from what preceded it. At the song’s conclusion he has turned backed to love, back to God, and the message we need is one of truth, commitment, and fidelity in the face of temptation.

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What We’re Reading Today: Interstellar, marriage & celibacy, and displaced communities

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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1) A review from Bishop-Elect Barron’s apostolate, Word on Fire. Here Daniel Stewart reviews Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” and personal love:

The love that moves the sun and the other stars also binds us together across spacetime.MV5BMjIxNTU4MzY4MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzM4ODI3MjE@._V1_SX640_SY720_ It is this personal force of love that saves humanity in “Interstellar” over the pragmatic approach to resuscitate an abstract humanity. And it is this personal love that must save us now. This love, this incredible gravity that created the universe is also the force that draws us back in.

2) “First Things'” Matthew Milliner on two pathways to heaven, marriage and celibacy:

If reality is muted in most American weddings, it was unavoidable at this service. Brother Timothy’s head was tonsured, a narrow rivulet of flesh cut into his hair, resembling the crown of martyrdom. For much of the service, he lay prostrate on marble before the Abbot and a shimmering Deësis icon. He was then enshrouded by his brothers in a black cloth. His mother stood in the front row weeping as Mary does in the icon, for her boy has figuratively died. I had figured the blanket was some kind of liturgical cloth with which I was unfamiliar, but as the service proceeds, the purpose of the black blanket became clear. It becomes his habit. He will be wearing the clothes in which he was buried until he is buried again.

3) I found these two articles interesting: a recent CARA report on closing down churches, and Christine Schenk’s reaction and examination of what we do with displaced communities:

What is missing in the sociological analysis is the power and meaning of Christian community.

What does closing a vital, solvent parish do to believers who have journeyed together over many years in good times and in bad? What does it mean to urban Catholic communities — formed in the social gospel — who have found fulfillment in serving the needy in their neighborhoods?