What We’re Reading Today: leaders react, a deft touch, and homily at World Meeting of Families

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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1) The world’s leaders react to Pope Francis’ speech at the United Nations:

The pope ends his speech with a call for new processes, which call forth the best in people as individuals, as communities and as one human family. These processes recognize the sacredness of everyone and of God’s creation. They are processes of hope that cast a vote for the genius of people who care for each other, who overcome their fear with love, and journey forth in action with the courage that comes from a sense of the transcendent.

– Carolyn Woo, President & CEO, Catholic Relief Services, Baltimore, Maryland

2) On Pope Francis’ “deft touch”:

But mostly Francis demonstrated a nuanced political dexterity, effectively sidestepping the familiar framework of American debate while charting his own broader path. He advocated “life” but emphasized opposition to the death penalty, not abortion. He made strong stands for religious freedom — a major issue for American bishops — but refocused the concept on interfaith tolerance and harmony.

3) The Holy Father’s homily at the closing liturgy of the World Meeting of Families:

Pointedly, yet affectionately, Jesus tells us: “If you, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:13). How much wisdom there is in these few words! It is true that, as far as goodness and purity of heart are concerned, we human beings don’t have much to show! But Jesus knows that, where children are concerned, we are capable of boundless generosity. So he reassures us: if only we have faith, the Father will give us his Spirit.

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Liturgy and Our Longing for Narrative

unnamedThe Rev. Porter C. Taylor

Author of “The Liturgical Theologian” (Patheos)

Everyone has a favorite story. Some people, and I am one of them, have many favorites stories to which they return over and over again. Those stories have meaning, experiences, and memories attached to them. I can still remember what it felt like the first time I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone; I can tangibly and vividly remember the room I was in, the smell of mid-Fall in northern Virginia, and the excitement of being captivated by a new story.

I am not alone in this. I am willing to bet my mortgage that as you read the previous paragraph you were thinking of your favorite story(s) and the first time you read/watched/heard them.

Deep down, I think we crave story and meaning.

There is something in us and about us that longs for narrative. We travel to Mordor with Sam and Frodo; we are transported to revolutionary France and walk the streets of Paris with Valjean and Javert; we can smell the surf splashing up against the boat in Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. We see ourselves in other stories, as other characters, finishing other plotlines. Suddenly we are no longer reading about Harry, Frodo, the Narnia children, Katniss, or other heroes and heroines: we become them. We assume their role and participate in their stories as if we were them.Harry_Potter_and_the_Sorcerer's_Stone

As I said, deep down, I think we crave story and meaning.

 What is it about us that craves such meaning and experience? I think that we were created to be part of a larger story, part of The Story, and we will search high and low until we finally find a place where we belong, a story that gives us significance, and a plot into which we fit. St. Augustine famously wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee.”

The narratives of this world tell differing versions of the same story: you are the main character, you can do all things, you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get ahead if only you try hard enough. Some stories teach that you are lousy, good for nothing, and will never amount to anything—it is simply the inverse image of the other. Either way, the stories and narratives swirling around us do not orient our lives and love toward God. We are taught to look inward, to discover our true self, and to let our own light shine into the world.

However, the story told in, through, and by the liturgy is alternative to the narratives of this world. It is not counter to these stories—as if somehow the stories of this world set the agenda—but simply alternative to other options. Dare I say that it is better than anything else on offer? It is!

Weekly we reenact, re-member, re-present, and reengage the story of God and his people. It is a story founded on and directed toward divine and self-giving love. In this story the people of God come together as a response to the divine call. This people thus becomes that which they already are: the church. She listens attentively to holy, inspiring, transformative, and normative words being read from the Book. She hears those words expounded upon in the Sermon through which she is called to a better way of life, to the Life. She responds to such conviction and challenge in the proclamation of her faith, humble confession of her sins, and she then receives God’s absolution.

This called, taught, transformed, and forgiven people then moves toward the Altar upon which are laid her gifts to God and the holy gifts of God for his holy people. Partaking of this sacred meal, of this sacrament of sacraments, she participates in the koinonia of the Trinity and the cosmic praise of all creation offering herself and her surroundings to her God. She is fed, nourished, ministered to, and then released for ministry outside parish walls.

advent.concert.212This is a story of a people who have fallen wayward from their God but he continues to seek after them, wooing them back to himself, drawing them unto his holy and divine love. This is a story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. It is a story of hope, of joy, of peace, of forgiveness, and a call to action. You are a participant in the retelling of this story and you are called to go into the world to begin living that story among neighbors and strangers. You are not the main character but you also are not a bit part either: you are called to a very specific part, for a specific purpose, all to the glory of God. Collectively the Church fulfills her role as the extension of Christ’s body into this world.

We crave story because we crave God. The liturgy—as with God’s Word—teaches us to crave the right story, to direct our love toward God, and to praise and worship the Creator of all things rather than the self. The concept of story is powerful because it invites the listener/viewer into something bigger and greater than the “I.” May we continually be invited into the ongoing and unfolding story of God and may we constantly accept his invitation to play a part in his story.

The Rev. Porter C. Taylor is an Anglican priest (Anglican Church in North America) residing in Kansas with his wife, Rebecca, and two sons. He is the author of “The Liturgical Theologian,” a blog on the Patheos Evangelical Channel and is passionate about liturgy, the sacraments, and ecclesiology. He received his MAT from Fuller Theological Seminary and is part of the Schmemann-Kavanagh-Fagerberg-Lathrop school of liturgical theology.

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The Prayer of Another

IMG_0798Andy Miles
Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith (2015)
University of Notre Dame, Class of 2017

Growing up as an ultra-early riser, I would sometimes awake just as the sun was coming up to catch the early hours of Sports Center for no reason other than to be able to say I woke up before my younger brother – 10 year olds can be competitive about the strangest of things.

But, I was never really first up.  My mother always beat me.

No matter how early I seemed to rosary 2rise, there was my mother, in the den off to the corner, reading from a tattered book, shuffling rosary beads through her fingers: praying.

It’s a tradition she continues to this day.  She wakes up early and prays.  And for so long I didn’t get it.  I would say my prayers, but only to clock in my time, do my duty, my penance.  I’d rattle off a few Hail Mary’s, shuffle in a few Our Father’s, and cap it off with a rushed Glory Be.  What was there in prayer that was so intriguing for my mother, so urgent and important that she would wake up early and pray?

As I got older and delved into my studies more, reading the works of the great theologians, prayer time became thinking time; I would spend my time reasoning through theological issues, trying to come to conclusions, trying to fix my problems with clean explanations.

Sometimes I would marvel at myself.  Here I was exploring the “big questions,” while I remembered the naïve prayers of my younger sister long ago as she went to bed, praying about petty things that happened to her during the day.  I thought there was no way God could be remotely interested in her minuscule problems at school, her spelling quiz the next day.  The God who created the vast space of the universe had time for that?  Certainly not, I thought.

But how wrong I was.

During my second year in college, things became much less simple.  All those problems I had always chalked up as pettiness, problems of no concern to a great all-powerful God?  They were crushing me.  A break-up.  Friends that seemed to have little concern for my problems.  Trouble focusing in class.  Trouble focusing outside of class.  Gossip.  Feeling alone.  I never spoke of these problems aloud.  I certainly never spoke of them in prayer.

I never really spoke to my mother about these things either.  I was never the kind of person who shared things.  But, after going home for a weekend, it was clear she knew something was not right.

So the next week she sent me a text.  All she said was that she wanted me to know I was in her prayers.  That each morning she gets up and prays not some strange impersonal prayer, but a prayer for me, a prayer for each one of her children.  I told her thanks and tried to move on, tried not to be affected.

alarm clockBut something about that image, about waking up to a piercing alarm, about waking up in the cold of winter long before the sun rose, about walking out into the den to pray, not for some abstraction, not to figure something out, but for me?  That haunted me.

A few nights later I broke down.  I woke up in the middle of the night and could not fall back asleep.  All that petty gossip, all those troubled friendships, they were not petty at all.  I muttered in my head all those distressing trivialities that I once thought God could care less about.

I released it all then.  Part of me appreciated the humor of it all.  The same kid who once chuckled as his younger sister muttered to God her worries about who to sit by at lunch the next day sat there distraught about a break-up and college drama.  Part of me was intent to go back to bed that night angry.  I could lie there and bring this all before God and it wasn’t going to change a thing.  It wasn’t going to be fixed.  But, as I dozed off a seed of a thought hit me that would grow into greater understanding over the coming days:  maybe I was finally learning how to pray.

There was not some grand moment of clarity, no sweeping movement of peace.  But after releasing all my concerns, I had the strangest desire to pray for someone else.  Maybe I was finally discovering why my mother could wake up so early all those years.  For the strangest reason, in that moment, the only thing I could think to do was to pray for someone else.

Over the coming days I started to think about how often I had told others I would pray for them.  I used it as a meaningless phrase to convey that they were in my mind.  But had I ever really prayed for them?  Really prayed?  The kind of prayer where you feel such care and urgency that you would wake up early like my mother has all these years?

And so a few days later, I prayed for her, my moMary mother of Godther.  I prayed that above all she could know, despite how little I ever told her, how important she was to me, how she was the model for my faith.  I prayed that for one day I could bear some of her anxieties and worries, for I understood how long she had been asking to bear mine.

I count these days as one prayer in my mind—the first real prayer I might have ever prayed.

It began in bringing forth all my petty problems to God, for there are no petty problems for him.  It began in bringing those to the Cross and not trying to fix them, not trying to figure something out.  Simply allowing them to be.  Simply being in the presence of my God.

It continued as I felt love for someone other than me.  To pray for the person I always thought I was going to pray for but never really had.  This was prayer: an experience of nearness with God that is far from alone, an experience of deep communion and love.  By giving something of myself, my deepest concerns, I began to desire to be something for someone else.  I desired to pray.

God is nearer to us than we could ever imagine, so deeply attuned to the small things, our relationships with one another, and the little pieces of our life.  Was that text from my mother not an answer to the prayer I was too proud to pray?  Though I had not prayed with that level of concern and vulnerability before, the seeds had been there, a prayer was nearly there, for that text struck such a chord in my heart and touched so many worries that I had longed to express.

The response to my prayer, the answer to my problem, was the prayer of another, a sign that I was and am loved.  All those days I was too proud to come before my God with my problems?  Well, God had placed someone in my life to pray that prayer for me.

My problems were significant to my mother, and they were significant to my God.  Absolutely nothing is unimportant to him.  He never tires of our prayers.

The Notre Dame Catechist Academy: An Education in Love

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Vision and Student Engagement

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At the beginning of this academic year, the Provost of Notre Dame, Dr. Tom Burish, shared a beautiful insight about the relationship between loving and caring. Speaking to the student body, he said,

You may say that your parents do so much for you because they love you, and that’s correct. But it is also the case that they love you so much because they do so much for you. You love who you pour your heart into.

You care for those you love and you learn to love those for whom you practice care.

If a university is to provide a transformative education, it must teach its students what to know, what to care about, and how to act upon that knowledge and care. For a Catholic university, the education provided must orient its students know, care about, and act for the Church. Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life cultivates this educational mission through serving the Church from the heart of the University while also helping to draw the gifts and cares of the Church into the University’s culture. One specific way in which the holistic education of our undergraduates is shaped according to knowledge, care, and service to the Church is through the Notre Dame Catechist Academy.

Each year, we commission upwards of 70 undergraduate students from Notre Dame to serve as catechists in local parishes. In 2015, 12 partner parishes welcome these undergraduates to teach classes for kindergarten age students through high school students. In English and in Spanish, the Notre Dame catechists prepare children and adolescents for First Communion and Confirmation, or they guide grade school students into a deeper understanding and practice of the Catholic faith outside of sacramental preparation. In addition to the 2-3 hours each of these catechists spends at the parish each weekend (or weeknight), they also spend at least that much time preparing lessons, praying for their students, and partaking in teaching enrichment classes and workshops that are required for their participation in this academy of the Institute for Church Life.

Our parish partners welcome these students with great enthusiasm. In many instances, the undergraduate catechists team-teach with a parishioner, while in other instances they teach alongside another catechist from the academy. In all cases, the undergraduate catechists work in collaboration with and under the direction of the Director of Religious Education (or relevant supervisor) as part of the parish’s team of catechists. In exchange for the service of these undergraduate catechists, the parishes provide a learning environment where the catechists are challenged to find the best ways to teach and serve those younger than themselves on the basis of what they know and what they believe as Catholics. Rather than education outside the classroom, the undergraduate catechists further their education in the classroom of the parish, where the content and practices of faith are handed on from generation to generation.

For our part, the Institute for Church Life takes on the responsibility of providing substantive formation for our undergraduate catechists, in partnership with the parishes, so that the students and families they serve receive the best possible education in faith. Since this is a program for which the undergraduates apply and volunteer, they all come into the experience with a passion for sharing the faith with others. These catechists also happen to be rather knowledgeable about their faith, thanks to the quality catechesis that they received and also the theological education they undertake as Notre Dame students. Since they are already enthusiastic, creative, and faith-filled, the Institute for Church Life focuses on giving them what they need most: instruction in how to teach.

As anyone who has taught anything surely knows, knowing and caring about something is one thing, while effectively communicating that knowledge and care to your students is something else. Therefore, all first year catechists in our academy enroll in a course designed specifically for them, which bears the title “Teaching the Faith”. In the course, the students learn how to identify and articulate sound learning objectives, develop effective and focused lesson plans, teach to multiple intelligences, assess student learning, and cultivate the spirituality of a catechist who is rooted in prayer.

saint-paul-preaching-e1274801182325To provide more personalized support, a four teaching supervisors under the direction of Notre Dame Vision assistant director Scott Boyle visit the classrooms of each undergraduate catechist at least thrice over the course of the academic year. These periods of observation give the catechists the opportunity to receive both positive feedback and constructive criticism about their teaching effectiveness and classroom management skills. A series of lesson planning workshops and regularly scheduled office hours with the teaching supervisors then allow the catechists to work on particular dimensions of their catechetical ministry with the guidance of an experienced mentor.

In this particular way of serving the Church, the Institute for Church Life invests its own resources and expertise in forming the undergraduate catechists well so that they may, in turn, educate and form young people well in the faith. This model is consistent with two of the major programs of the Institute for Church Life, namely Echo and Notre Dame Vision.

In Echo, recent college graduates serve for two years as apprentice catechetical leaders in parishes of partner dioceses or as theology teachers in Catholic high schools; they concurrently pursue a Master’s degree in theology within a comprehensive formation program. In Notre Dame Vision, current undergraduate students—many of whom either come from or later go to the Catechist Academy—are educated and formed over the course of an academic year to serve as “Mentors-in-Faith” for high school students in a series of faith formation conferences held on campus each summer. In the Notre Dame Catechist Academy as in Echo and Vision, the Institute for Church Life forms leaders to serve the Church while simultaneously asking the Church to help educate and form its own students.

In this regard, the efforts of education, formation, and service respond to the direction of (Saint) Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, where he observed that,

Pastoral ministry is an indispensable means by which Catholic students can, in fulfillment of their baptism, be prepared for active participation in the life of the Church; … Close cooperation between pastoral ministry in a Catholic University and the other activities within the local Church, under the guidance or with the approval of the diocesan Bishop, will contribute to their mutual growth (§41).

While it is relatively easy for us to foster within our students a love for Notre Dame; it is harder and indeed more necessary to teach our students to love the Church. And you can’t teach love for the Church without the Church: that is the gift that our local parishes and our local diocese give back to Notre Dame as we seek to educate our students in mind and heart.

The beautiful insight from Dr. Burish earlier this year is as true for cultivating a love for the Church as it is for the love between parents and children: you will do much for those you love, and you will learn to love those for whom you do much. In sharing our undergraduate students with the Church, these students receive the nourishment of the Church as Mother who teaches them who and how to love; in their service to the Church, they learn to care about what the Church cares about as they help pass on the Good News to the next generation of disciples. Through the Notre Dame Catechist Academy, we build up the local Church and the local Church builds up our distinctively Catholic education.

Follow Leonard DeLorenzo @leodelo2.

Musical Mystagogy: The Archangels

Carolyn Pirtle

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Today marks the feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael—the three archangels named within the canon of Scripture. St. Michael, whose name means “Who is like God?” is most commonly identified as the warrior, leading an army of angels in defeating the great red dragon and his legions in the book of Revelation (see Rev 12:7ff). St. Gabriel, whose name means “God is my strength” is arguably the most well-known of the three archangels. Gabriel is the herald of the Incarnation, announcing first to Zechariah that he will be father to John the Baptist, forerunner of the Messiah (Lk 1:11–21), and then announcing to Mary that God has chosen her to be the Mother of his Only-Begotten Son, Jesus, who will save the world from sin and death (Lk 1:26–38). St. Raphael, whose name means “God has healed,” appears only in the Old Testament book of Tobit, where he not only heals Sara of the demon Asmodeus and brings her to a happy marriage with young Tobias, but he also heals the eponymous Tobit (Tobias’ father) of blindness (see Tob 4:17).

The archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael are held up to the Church today for their obedience to God as messengers (the literal meaning of the word “angel”): they stand before God, ready to do his will, and at God’s bidding, they go where they are sent and proclaim the word given to them by God. In other words, the angels are evangelists. They proclaim the Good News of God’s power over evil (Michael); they announce God’s plan to redeem humanity by becoming one like us in all things but sin (Gabriel); and they reveal God’s desire to heal humanity of every illness and iniquity (Raphael).

Catholics today may be more likely to turn to saints who were, well, human beings, instead of turning to the archangels we celebrate today or the guardian angels whom we will celebrate on October 2. Because we may never have seen an angel (or at least think we’ve never seen one, for as the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, “some have entertained angels without knowing it” (13:2)), we are perhaps more ready to dismiss angels altogether not only as beings whom we are incapable of imitating, but also as beings incapable of understanding our human plight. But today’s feast shows us that such is not the case. We can imitate the angels and archangels by imitating their readiness to serve God and their fidelity to God’s will, and angels do understand our plights because, as Scripture shows, they are always ready to help us out of them.

In the realm of sacred choral music, we find the angels and archangels placed front and center in Benjamin Britten’s The Company of Heaven. Originally written in 1937 as incidental music for a BBC radio program broadcast on the feast of Michaelmas (prior to the revision of the sanctoral calendar, only St. Michael was celebrated on this date), The Company of Heaven is an extended work featuring music, Scripture, and poetry by authors including Christina Rosetti and Emily Dickinson. The structure is less like an oratorio or cantata (which are entirely sung), and more akin to Lessons and Carols services often seen during the Advent and Christmas seasons (a combination of spoken and sung texts). Throughout the work, Britten demonstrates a familiarity with various traditions of liturgical music including chant and hymnody, as well as a remarkable musical dexterity in taking these forms and infusing them with his own distinct musical voice. This music is rooted in tradition, making it recognizable and accessible to listeners, and yet it is also wholly Britten, making it a unique contribution to the treasury of sacred choral literature.

For our musical and spiritual edification today, we’ll focus on the finale of the work, “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones,” a grand setting of the famous hymn text written by Athelstan Riley set to the tune Lasst Uns Erfreuen (most commonly paired with the text “All Creatures of Our God and King”). The way Britten sets this well-known tune is a particularly brilliant example of his taking something familiar and arranging it in such a way that it becomes something wholly new. He sets up expectations in the listener’s ear and then stunningly subverts them more often than he fulfills them: a resolution that we think is coming around the bend never appears; the key changes unexpectedly; the rhythm with which we’re familiar is changed ever so slightly. In other words, this music zigs one way when we think it’s going to zag the other. It surprises us. And when we listen to it in light of today’s feast, these musical surprises can call to our minds the ways in which God beautifully and lovingly surprised his faithful ones with the messages they received through his archangels.

Britten’s setting of “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones” gently shows us the folly of familiarity, of thinking that we’ve heard everything there is to hear when it comes to a tune we think we know well. We can fall into such a pattern of familiarity in the life of faith, too, thinking that we’ve heard everything we need to hear, or worse, that we know everything we need to know. The musical surprises present throughout Britten’s music invite us to rethink that which may have become familiar, and to open our hearts once again to being surprised by God. By cultivating such a stance of openness, we will more closely resemble the archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael in their openness and readiness to hear and obey God’s voice, and, perhaps, we will even be more readily able to perceive God’s messengers—the angels and archangels—still at work in the world around us.

The Gospel of the Family

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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On Sunday, foregoing the trip to Philadelphia for the Papal Mass, I found myself at my “slightly-less-crowded-than-the-Ben-Franklin- Parkway” parish with toddler in tow. My wife was the cantor, and I was thus charged with toddler liturgical care during the celebration of the Mass. Sitting in the very first row and kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer, I whispered into the ear of my son during the Institution Narrative that it was “Jesus up there.” He responded with his usual acclamation that recognizes something important: “That!,” he exclaimed rather loudly.

This, as it turns out, was simply one of the many moments in which I would ponder with my son the joy of the Gospel on this particular Sunday. My wife had a choir concert, and therefore, we spent the evening together at an Irish pub in downtown South Bend, where the Eucharistic feast gave way to the pub burger. We then went to Vespers at the Basilica, only to return home seemingly drunk on incense. We ended our evening together as we kissed an icon together and bid night-night to Jesus, Mary, and St. Thomas.

I could not help but think of these moments as I re-read the Pope’s various comments on the Gospel of the Family during his days in Philadelphia. Nearly all attention relative to the Synod on the Family is being devoted to the question of divorced and remarried Catholics being allowed to receive the Eucharist. In reality, the Pope drew our attention elsewhere, to the very heart of the family itself. In his off-the-cuff remarks at the Festival of Families, the Holy Father noted:

Being with you makes me think of one of the most beautiful mysteries of our Christian faith. God did not want to come into the world other than through a family. God did not want to draw near to humanity other than through a home. God did not want any other name for himself than Emmanuel (cf. Mt 1:23). He is “God with us”. This was his desire from the beginning, his purpose, his constant effort: to say to us: “I am God with you, I am God for you”. He is the God who from the very beginning of creation said: “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). We can add: it is not good for woman to be alone, it is not good for children, the elderly or the young to be alone. It is not good. That is why a man leaves his father and mother, and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24). The two are meant to be a home, a family.

From time immemorial, in the depths of our heart, we have heard those powerful words: it is not good for you to be alone. The family is the great blessing, the great gift of this “God with us”, who did not want to abandon us to the solitude of a life without others, without challenges, without a home.

God does not dream by himself, he tries to do everything “with us”. His dream constantly comes true in the dreams of many couples who work to make their life that of a family.

That is why the family is the living symbol of the loving plan of which the Father once dreamed. To want to form a family is to resolve to be a part of God’s dream, to choose to dream with him, to want to build with him, to join him in this saga of building a world where no one will feel alone, unwanted or homeless.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 27: Pope Francis (C) celebrates mass during the World Meeting of Families on September 27, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Pope Francis wrapped up his United States tour with the World Meeting of Families Papal Mass during on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 27: Pope Francis (C) celebrates mass during the World Meeting of Families on September 27, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Pope Francis wrapped up his United States tour with the World Meeting of Families Papal Mass during on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In this way, the family is not simply the “object” of evangelization; rather, it is the agent of divine love in the world. Every family, no matter their particular religious background, serves as an icon of God’s vision of the destiny of human life as solidarity with one another. If families disappear, if commitment dissipates, if children are not born, if grandparents are not cared for, then a sign of divine love dries up in the world. The proclamation of God’s love does not have a place to take flesh.

For this reason, Pope Francis urges bishops attending the World Meeting of Families to avoid treating families as a problem to be dealt with. He exhorts:

For the Church, the family is not first and foremost a cause for concern, but rather the joyous confirmation of God’s blessing upon the masterpiece of creation. Every day, all over the world, the Church can rejoice in the Lord’s gift of so many families who, even amid difficult trials, remain faithful to their promises and keep the faith!

I would say that the foremost pastoral challenge of our changing times is to move decisively towards recognizing this gift. For all the obstacles we see before us, gratitude and appreciation should prevail over concerns and complaints. The family is the fundamental locus of the covenant between the Church and God’s creation. Without the family, not even the Church would exist. Nor could she be what she is called to be, namely “a sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race” (Lumen Gentium, 1).

The existence of families, even if taking a different form than previous generations, should be a cause for celebration not dismay. The pastor is one who is to make the joys and sorrows of family life his own. A parish’s pastoral approach must not view the couple who comes to you for marriage suspiciously; to set up exceedingly difficult regulations for having a child baptized; to merely deal with parents of confirmation candidates, who don’t seem to care. Rather, the Gospel of the Family demands that everyone responsible for pastoral ministry recognize the seeds of the Gospel already flourishing in the midst of any family life.

For it is precisely the unique constitution of the family itself, which makes it rich soil for the proclamation of the Gospel in the modern world. In his closing homily in Philadelphia, Pope Francis preaches:

Faith opens a “window” to the presence and working of the Spirit. It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures. “Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name — a small gesture — will not go unrewarded”, says Jesus (cf. Mk 9:41). These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children, by brothers. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work. Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life grows in faith.

Secularization will not be forestalled through setting up ramparts against modern ways of thinking. Individualism cannot be defeated simply through reading tomes against it. Rather, one learns the Gospel as a father whispers into the ear of his child the glorious mysteries of divine love revealed in the Eucharist; as that same child spends an afternoon with his father, delighted to play with a toy giraffe for hour upon hour in his presence, forming his father in learning to delight in the smallest things; as father and son eat a meal together in perfect contentment (one watching football, the other enjoying Elmo); as they attend Vespers on a warm, autumn day, singing along to the Salve Regina; as they come home and the father gives his wife a hug, as the child squeals in delight at the sight of his mom. As they read stories together and pray together and go to bed, aware of the gift of their way of life.


You see, the miracle of the Gospel of the Family is that is shows once again that proclaiming the Good News, evangelizing the world, is no more complicated than practicing the art of self-giving love day after day within one’s life. The Synod on the Family will hold this mystery up to the world, inviting pastors to think anew about the role of families in the new evangelization of the world. It won’t be about new regulations alone or modernizing annual proceedings. This is precisely the legalistic way of thinking, which the Pope deplores. It will instead show how divine mercy manifests itself day-after-day in family life. It will, perhaps, propose to the Church that the great next moment of evangelization will not occur through missionary orders but through those everyday meals that form a family in the art of hospitality. It will remind us that the greatest threat to the family is not divorce but the terrible poverty that often makes this self-giving love impossible in the midst of worries, of forced immigration of one parent. And the Synod on the Family will announce that this is the way of death, not the way of life.

This is the Gospel of the Family that the Pope has proposed to the world. I, for one, have heard it as Good News.


What We’re Reading Today: United Nations, Kavanagh, and the Domestic Church

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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1) A piece from Matthew Schmitz over at First Things on Francis at the United Nations:

The speech began with a strong affirmation of the U.N.’s power to do good. Francis called the body a path for “political, juridical and technical advances” that could help attain “the ideal of human fraternity.” In this Pope Francis echoed his recent predecessors. The Vatican has long been led by diplomats and its optimism about the U.N. has proven invincible to decades of disappointment.

2) The Rev. Porter C. Taylor with a close reading of Aidan Kavanagh. “The Church,” Taylor points out, “is an inversion of what we find in the world, it is a paradox to those who have not yet seen its beauty and majesty.”

The message of the Gospel runs against the grain of our individualistic, consumerist culture in which the dream is to live the good life by caring for yourself above everything and everyone else. People climb the social, political, and professional ladders in their lives in order to make a name for themselves, to earn more money, and to achieve their wildest dreams. While Babel was the collective effort of a people to become equal to God the current obsession with the self is the conscious and willing effort to replace God with who you see in the mirror.

3) Millennial‘s Bridge Coleman on Pope Francis and the domestic Church:

Through his actions, Pope Francis has catechized the world. He can use this weekend to remind families that “they catechize primarily by the witness of their Christian lives and by their love for the faith.” Just as Pope Francis does, so must we do in our families. If we want our children to live the works of mercy, we must live them together. If we want our children to be people of prayer, we must pray with them, for them, and in front of them. If we want our children to love the gift and mystery of the Mass, we must take them there and fully participate ourselves. If we want our children to celebrate the sacraments, we must go often to receive Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist.

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God has not left us orphan: Papa Francesco in NYC

Renee RodenRenée Roden, ND ’14

Teacher and Playwright, New York City

A little over two and a half years ago, I stood in St. Peter’s Square on March 13, 2013. Along with a handful of my Notre Dame classmates, I stood under a cloud of umbrellas, waiting, praying, and keeping our eyes glued to a tiny chimney. Together, we waited anxiously in the evening rain, we watched as a plume of white smoke poured out of the smokestack, we heard the words: “Habemus Papam!” and, after what seemed like hours of hurried, hushed, and excited whispering among the pilgrims crowded within the arms of St. Peter’s, shouted along with the rest of the crowd “Francesco! Francesco!”

One part of the thrill of the conclave of 2013 was the excitement of witnessing something altogether new. Pope Benedict’s resignation sparked a series of events that were unprecedented, and highly exciting: What’s all this? The world sputtered with fascination. What does this all mean? There was a delicious feeling of being off-script; nothing that was happening was predictable. And novelty is, of course, always exciting.Times_Square

On Friday, I was in East Harlem, watching as NYPD fences began to line the avenues, in preparation for Papal motorcades. Pope Francis bobble-heads appear in the neighborhood bodegas. On my morning runs through central park, a large sign has appeared announcing the park’s closure on Friday, September 25th , “due to the Papal Visit.” The city is shut down near the UN; New Jersey Transit—the favored transportation of suburb commuters and drunk Rutgers undergrads—has a “2015 Visit of Pope Francis; What You Need to Know” banner splashed across their website; there are signs on the buses that announce: routes are changing for the papal visit, some buses may not be running. (Hint: just don’t take the bus). Although water cooler talk is constantly speculating on how chaotic and nightmarish “Getting Around The City” will be on Friday, there is a hint of satisfaction and excitement in the complaints. This is something new. And it is sort of exciting to get your life re-routed for a day, and be inconvenienced (Because the MTA is always one big fat inconvenience anyway, amiright?) by the visit of a pope who seems so new.

He is unlike anything we have seen before, they think. There is something novel about this man. Mostly, this is because our memories are so short.Our media is caught up to comparing Francis with his predecessors, and how he is an aberration with the past.  But Francis is not a departure – he is a continuation. We are impressed that Francis has nixed the fancy papal shoes and forget that John Paul II was buried in a simple cedar coffin. We are delighted by the motto “Love is Our Mission” and forget that Benedict XVI’s first encyclical was “God is Love.”3_popesSomehow, though, in an attention deficit culture, Francis manages to capture the imagination of all who would tune out religion like so much white noise. Francis reminds us that the Truth, ever ancient, is ever new. He seems to bring something new with him. Just as Vatican II opened up the church into the modern world, Francis has opened up the Church to the postmodern world. People who have lost interest in the Faith, who have confused Catholicism with Conservatism and with Being Catholic as Being Straitlaced and No Fun; Francis shatters all these perceptions. Perhaps there is something to this man who wears Christ Crucified on his breast, and smiles like a joyful toddler. Perhaps this man, so kind and wise and childlike, so different and so new, we exclaim, means something.

The Catholic Church in New York City is not exactly thriving. Cardinal Dolan’s “Making all things New” initiative is a hopeful spin on a very sad project, which is to combine parishes, due to the shortage of priests, and of parishioners and tithes to fund the parishes. But perhaps Francis’ visit will assist this diocese, this tired church, in truly making all things new. There is an attitude of renewal and anticipation as we welcome him here: a kind of advent.

Which brings me to the second—and more important—part of the excitement that buzzed around me during Conclave 2013 and now in the East Harlem sidewalks. There is a new awareness of God at work in the world.

images-1As we stood in St. Peter’s Square and watched the white smoke rise, we saw God in action. The Holy Spirit was providing for the Church through the action of her holy people. We were not left orphan, with a gaping sede vacante, but the Spirit had moved these men in red to elect one member of their numbers to be the servant of us all. And whatever he may be—Italian, Ghanan, Argentinian, conservative, joyful, dour, charismatic or reserved—it would not matter. For he was already a symbol of hope. He was, from the moment he stepped out on the balcony, as the crowds screamed his name, before he had even spoken a word, a symbol pointing towards a larger truth: that God has not left us orphan. God is working in the world, and here is a man who had been appointed to give his entire life in dedication to this mission: to make God known and loved. To feed Christ’s flock. To spread the joy of Gospel and the love of Christ to a world that so desperately needs to have all things made new in it.

A year ago, I remember a reporter approached me as I was praying after mass, in the flagship Jesuit parish of Upper East Side, and polled me briefly on Pope Francis, her leading question: Pope Francis is coming to Philadelphia in 2015; don’t you think he should come to New York City as well? I didn’t really care at the time, and I think told her something to that effect. March13-WhiteSmokeBut, now, as hordes of reporters follow him around New York City, I am touched by that eager question. There is a great desire to see him. People climbed up on the scaffolding near St. Patrick’s to catch a glimpse as he rode in for vespers; business men hung out of 5th avenue office windows, and a sea of selfie sticks popped out of the crowd. A hunger was present that runs deeper than just a hope of catching an Instagram of the Social Justice Pope. It was a hunger to see this man who, despite his hesitant English, speaks very clearly to our hearts that thirst for peace and joy.

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What We’re Reading Today: address to Congress, forever, and Pope Michael

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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1) The official text from Pope Francis’ address to Congress:

But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.

2) Cyril Pinchak, SJ on “Marriage, Divorce, and the Synod on the Family:”

From our perspective (this side of heaven), the only thing that is forever is God. We ask things of people that we can only ask of God. When we ask for someone’s forever, or someone asks for ours, we are really asking it of God. Neither you nor I nor anyone else can give ourselves to someone or something forever, unless we do it in and through God. So when we say “I will love you forever,” we are saying something not only about our relationship with another, but with the Other.

Relationships last forever only insofar as they are rooted in God. No relationship, whether that be between a husband and wife, parent and child, or even communities within the Church, will last unless they are rooted in God.

3) What can rival Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S.? Only “Pope Michael” of course!

Pope Michael landed in Washington, D.C. for the first time on Tuesday, launching a six-day visit that will highlight his love for the Tridentine Mass and his desire to tackle the Church’s most significant political controversies.

In an unprecedented welcome for a Church dignitary, the manager at the airport’s Orange Julius, his wife, and their daughters, along with 17-year-old Sbarro cashier and his on-again, off-again girlfriend, traveled to Gate C-17 from the food court to greet the pontiff.12042844_10207732909859316_4304161829951477823_n

The Voice of the Poor at the United Nations

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Vision and Student Engagement

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Yesterday, in reflecting upon Pope Francis’s speech to the U.S. Congress and his blessing from the balcony, I suggested that the Pope invited our congressional leaders and the people they represent into a form of intercessory prayer. Following St. Paul, this prayer is predicated upon making room in oneself—in one’s own heart—for the needs and the good of others. As the Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium, St. Paul’s prayer was “full of people” because when he offered himself in prayer to God, he offered God all those whose cares he made his own (§281-282).

On the floor of the United Nations this morning, Pope Francis once again embodied the beauty and the power of intercessory prayer. His voice was his own and yet not his own because Francis carried the needs of the poor to the meeting of the nations.

In recognizing the mission of the United Nations to promote the common good and protect the human dignity of all, Francis spoke first to the sickness of the environment. To those who believe that the Pope should speak more about issues that directly threaten the dignity of human beings, it is important to heed the perspective from which Francis looks upon environmental issues: he sees them from the perspective of the poor. Francis argues that “any harm done to the environment is harm done to humanity,” and that the misuse of natural resources and the inequitable commerce of goods and profit (for the wealthy) and waste (for the poor) perpetuates a system of exclusion whereby the few live comfortably at the expense of the many:

The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing “culture of waste”. The dramatic reality this whole situation of exclusion and inequality, with its evident effects, has led me, in union with the entire Christian people and many others, to take stock of my grave responsibility in this regard and to speak out, together with all those who are seeking urgently-needed and effective solutions.

To see the “evident effects” of the “culture of waste”, one cannot look from the perspective of the economically prosperous and financially secure. Rather, in order to see the effects, one must allow oneself to see from the side of those who bear the cost. For the poor who are the most vulnerable to the degradations of the environment, the unjust distribution of goods and wealth, and systemic practices of exclusion, there is no debate about whether or not the ecological threat is real. The urge to commodify the natural goods that justly belong to all is translated, through social and economic manifestations, into the commodification of human beings: “human trafficking, the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labor, including prostitution, the drug and weapons trade, terrorism and international organized crime.”

This speech—not unlike Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato Si—is oriented to the promotion of the common good. Promoting the common good—at least rhetorically—is not uncommon. What makes the Pope’s speech distinctive is that he speaks to the powerful on behalf of the poor: he is bringing their perspective to the fore and demanding dignity and justice on their behalf. As the Vicar of Christ charged with the office of unity for the entire Church, this is the mission proper to his vocation. At the same time, however, it is yet another illustrative example of his practice of intercessory prayer. His authority—his voice—is filled with the needs and voices of those the Church protects as its special treasure: the poor. In this speech in particular, he cedes the space of his authority to the needs of the neediest. Only from this perspective can any one of us truly understand the common good in which we are called to participate:

The common home of all men and women must continue to rise on the foundations of a right understanding of universal fraternity and respect for the sacredness of every human life, of every man and every woman, the poor, the elderly, children, the infirm, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic.

This is the roll call of those whom the Pope, on behalf of the Church and her Lord, carries in his heart. His speech that advocates for them rises from his heart shaped in prayer for them. In this, Francis is intentionally following the example of St. Paul, who took the good of others as his own good and offered their needs to the Lord in his prayer.

Follow Leonard DeLorenzo @leodelo2.