What We’re Reading: Welcome to Advent, Helping Young Moms, and the wisdom of the poor

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

ND ’14, MTS ’16 (History of Christianity)

Managing Editor

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1) Over at “Daily Theology,” a reflection yesterday’s readings  by way of Ann Pancake’s Strange as This Weather Has Been:

And, I’ll be honest, I don’t know exactly what that looks like. All I know is that in order to truly embody Advent, I must follow Jesus into the chaos, the destruction, the pain, and the grief of others. As I prepare to enter this holy season of expectation and hope, Pancake’s prophetic words break open my heart and there an Advent prayer waits: “What do I need to learn to lose in my life so others might live in joyful hope rather than grieve in despair?”

2) From Aleteia, Elizabeth Scalia on helping young moms who struggle:

There is freedom in obedience but it can sometimes seem very hard to find when life is a blur of small, unruly people who are in constant states of screaming need and one’s post-partum chemistry is all afoul; a sincere attempt at religious obedience can feel like oncoming death or madness, especially if one is not getting some sound spiritual direction, and a little help. People who have no idea what it’s like to not even be alone while in the bathroom — to have no spare minute in which to collect oneself or re-tether oneself to heaven — cannot possibly imagine the strain.

3) In light of Pope Francis’ visit to Africa, John L. Allen, Jr. writes that the Holy Father gleans his wisdom from the poor:

Of course, Francis has made statements like that countless times. While they remain urgently relevant, they don’t really add much to understanding who the pontiff is and what he stands for. Looking more closely, however, Francis didn’t go to Kangemi simply to commiserate with Africa’s poor. He went to acknowledge what he called “the wisdom found in poor neighborhoods.”

Follow Tony on Twitter: @tonyoleck

The Advent of Unrealistic Expectations

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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American culture loves programs for self-improvement. We idolize celebrities, who are able to turn over a new leaf in their lives. We subscribe to magazines that show us how to live more simply (by finally organizing our cabinets). We watch with tear-stained eyes as contestants on reality TV are physically or emotionally transformed.

This program of self-improvement leading to happiness is part of American religion as well. Within Catholicism, the season of Lent is that time par excellence in which projects of self-improvement are taken up. We pray more. We fast from electronics or food. We engage in works of mercy. And we hope, through it all, that we will find a space in our hearts to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord with fervent devotion.

This desire for self-improvement is indeed important to the Christian life. The Church herself encourages us to take up practices that renew us in divine love. The Eucharistic preface for the First Sunday of Lent notes:

By abstaining forty days from earthly food,/he consecrated through his fast/the pattern of our Lenten observance/and, by overturning all the snares of the ancient serpent,/taught us to cast out the leaven of malice,/so that, celebrating worthily the Paschal Mystery,/we might pass over at last to the eternal paschal feast.

The importance of “practice” is at the heart of Advent as well. In the first week of Advent, we are urged in the prayers of the Church to take up a posture of watchfulness. This watchfulness is an invitation toward conversion as Benedict XVI notes in his 2011 Angelus address:

Therefore, John’s [the Baptist] appeal goes far beyond and deeper than a call to a sober lifestyle: it is a call for inner change, starting with the recognition and confession of our sins. As we prepare for Christmas, it is important that we find time for self contemplation and carry out an honest assessment of our lives. May we be enlightened by a ray of the light that comes from Bethlehem, the light of He who is “the Greatest” and made himself small, he who is “the Strongest” but became weak.

HeComesAdvent is a time for us to consider where we stand before the living God, who in the first weeks of this season, we ask to come once again. Not as a babe in Bethlehem but in his glory, offering that definitive judgment of the humanity that will renew heaven and earth. We take up practices of watchfulness and self-reflection that prepare us for this coming of the risen Lord. As John Henry Newman writes in a sermon during the season of Advent:

When we kneel down in prayer in private, let us think to ourselves, Thus shall I one day kneel before His very footstool, in this flesh and this blood of mine; and He will be seated over against me, in flesh and blood also, though divine. I come, with the thought of that awful hour before me, I come to confess my sin to Him now, that He may pardon it then, and I say, ‘O Lord, Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal, in the hour of death and in the day of judgment, deliver us, O Lord’ (Worship: A Preparation for Christ’s Coming, 964).

Kneeling in prayer becomes a preparation for our encounter with the living God. In this way, the practices of Advent are occasions of learning the proper disposition of humble love that must possess the human being, seeking to encounter God at the end of time. It is learning to become small and weak in imitation of the Word made flesh who became small for the redemption of the world.

Yet, the danger of American religion is that these practices of watchfulness, these preparations for the coming of the risen Lord, become about preparing us to have a great experience. We want to have the “best Advent ever” so that, as Matthew Kelly notes in a primer for a program run by Dynamic Catholic, we can have “the best Christmas ever.” He is right to note that Advent often passes too quickly, swept up into the holiday preparations that occupy American religion. He is right to emphasize that preparing the heart for the coming of the babe at Bethlehem is integral to the proper celebration of Advent (and thus Christmas).

But, the language of “best ever” (although potentially rhetorically effective for the contemporary American) may also lead to the advent of unrealistic expectations. The reality is that Advent preparation often involves coming to the recognition that to prepare for Christ’s coming is surprisingly uncomfortable. As the prophet Isaiah notes in the very first lesson in the Office of Readings for Advent Week 1:

I cannot endure festival and solemnity./Your New Moons and your pilgrimages/I hate with all my soul./They lie heavy on me,/I am tired of bearing them./When you stretch out your hands/I turn my eyes away./You may multiply your prayers,/I shall not listen./Your hands are covered with blood,/wash, make yourselves clean.

Take away wrong-doing out of my sight./Cease to do evil./Learn to do good,/search for justice,/help the oppressed,/be just to the orphan,/plead for the widow…

As we prepare for God’s definitive judgment in history, we realize that it is our very selves that are part of the problem. Though I pray each morning, I somehow find myself annoyed at the driver doing five miles under the speed limit. I lie to myself on a regular basis about my compassion for the widow and the orphan, instead preferring the comfort of my home. I am impatient with my sick toddler, often not considering the mercy I should offer in such a moment. The horrors of violence portrayed regularly on the news leave me often cold, uninspired to do something about the needs of others. I am a sinner, one of those in Matthew 25, who may not be able to recognize the presence of the coming Christ in my midst.

Realizing that one is part of the problem of sin itself is not a “best-ever” experience. It is a humbling one, a recognition of one’s total weakness before God’s triune love revealed in the Christmas creche. The season of Advent opens up a space in the human heart to receive God’s healing mercy in the midst of our poverty. It is often in the midst of the worst Advent, immersed in one’s total failure, that the healing of Christmas might matter most.

AdventOf course, this is not an apology for doing nothing during Advent. It is not a dismissal of practicing watchfulness, which should mark the season. But it is a warning that promising “best-ever” experiences, even for the sake of inviting Catholics to return to a robust practice of their faith, comes with a cost. The cost is that we confuse the liturgical year with a program of self-improvement. We invite those on the margins of our parishes to unrealistic expectations that Christian life is a series of “best-evers” rather than occasions of hidden love in the midst of a God who did not seem to mind remaining hidden in the Bethlehem manger. The Christmas we celebrate may be mundane, lived out in ordinary parish life, still full of the trials and tribulations of family life; but that does not make it less “best-ever.” In fact, the Christian life (and thus the season of Advent) is learning to see (a normally painful process) the hidden ways that the Word still remains flesh among us.

What the Church promises is not that practicing Advent will lead us to the “best Christmas.” Rather, as John Henry Newman hopes: “May each Christmas, as it comes, find us more and more like Him; who as at this time became a little child for our sake, more simple-minded, more humble, more holy, more affectionate, more resigned, more happy, more full of God” (The Mystery of Godliness). And we may find that the more full of God we become, the more we are open to his presence among us, we are led not into “best-ever” experiences. But more and more into that longing for redemption, that anxious awaiting of the God who will put an end to Advent and Christmas itself: Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus, Come! 

Waiting for the End with the Infant

UntitledMichael Thomas, CSC

Second-Year Temporarily Professed Seminarian

MDiv, ’18


After a serious storm, local news stations almost always feature home videos of the downpour. These videos often capture a similar sequence: at first the voices on the film chatter excitedly as they record images of rain bucketing down and the wind bending trees. But suddenly things change. The rain comes down harder, a power line snaps and sparks, a tree branch slams into the side of the porch, there is broken glass. The excited chatter turns to screams. “God help us!” they yell.

They wonder if they are done for. They wonder if God will do anything about the storm, if any help is coming. Excitement turns to dread, turns to question: what will happen?

In yesterday’s Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Advent, Jesus depicts an apocalypse that arouses dread and question. This scene destroys any sense of safe distance or of being a comfortable observer, of watching something “out there” from the safety of a porch.

In Jesus’ scene, Heaven shivers, the ocean swells, the sun and stars pattern themselves in new angles. Nothing is right. We who watch are not so sure of things anymore. It’s the kind of thing that makes us yell, “God, help us!

It’s calamity. And calamity blasts and bleeds all around us. It’s bullets ripping through a Paris café. It’s a bomb shattering a Syrian church. It’s nine bodies on the floor after a prayer service in Charleston.

It is the kind of thing that would make us whisper, “God, help us.

It’s a divorce after 20 years of marriage. It’s a cancer diagnosis. It’s a dying sister.

It’s calamity.

Sometimes it feels like Jesus’ version of apocalypse could be a scene we witness from our living rooms. Everything is passing away. We know that part of life is standing in the storm of calamity, of an incomplete, groaning creation.

But what difference does it make to be a Christian when a tree shatters the porch or when Heaven shivers? Jesus tells us that when the storm shakes our houses to its foundations, we are to stand upright and raise our heads like a watchman on a tower. To squint and to stare into the horizon for something that is coming after the chaos, into the chaos.

This is the instruction of Jesus: to stand with expectation and to whisper into the storm, “What will you do about this, God?

Something is coming. The Christian always has one eye on the horizon. Jesus promises us that these signs of disaster mean that our redemption is near: quickly following chaos is the Kingdom of God.

In the storm that rattles our house, we expect and we hope for something else. We expect the action of God. And so we ask, “Oh God, what will you do?”

Emmanuel means “God with us.” And it is Emmanuel for whom we begin to wait in Advent: the child Jesus.

Gerard_van_Honthorst_001This is the answer to our question – this child is what God will do. It is for Emmanuel that we squint and stare and strain in the midst of it all.

Even if our lives crash down, if the stars fall, and if darkness covers us to the point of fear, we will stand upright, and raise our heads, and listen and look with all of our might. We listen and we look because we trust that on the heels of destruction, right into the heart of the storm, right into the heart of our living rooms, comes God barreling down from the Heavens.

And it is in this darkness, after we have howled our question to God, “what will you do!” that we find His answer to us: the small cry of an infant cutting through the nighttime. Emmanuel. God is with us.

Waiting with “stirred up” hearts

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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Once again we have concluded a liturgical year, and with Evening Prayer on Saturday, November 28, we begin a new one with Advent. Taking its name from the Latin “ad-venire,” and translated as “to come to,” Advent is the season encompassing four Sundays (and weekdays) lasting until midafternoon of December 24. For Christians everywhere these coming 26 days are meant as a time of two-fold preparation. In the days just ahead, we are directing hearts and minds to Christ’s second coming at the end of time as well as commemorating the anniversary of the Lord’s birth on Christmas.

An ancient collect (opening prayer) for the first Advent Sunday from the seventh-century Rome and Gaul reads: “Stir up Thy might, we beg Thee, and come.” Accordingly, in some regions the first day of Advent is still referred to as “Stir-Up Sunday!” A connected tradition is the creation of some kind of pudding or cake that all family members can help stir up symbolizing the readiness of everyone’s heart to prepare for Christ’s birth.[1]

Recalling salvation history leading up to the Incarnation, we perceive that God’s heart, as it were, was the first to be “stirred up”! The first pages of Genesis tell us of the light and life, the splendor and grandeur God’s love stirred up so that creation could come into being as a result. It culminated and overflowed, so to speak, when he stirred up a creature in his image and likeness with whom he could share his Love. Yet, this paradisiacal harmony was short-lived when our first parents, being like God, tried to be God. Their hearts were stirred towards themselves and as a result preferred death to life and darkness to light. Still, God’s love was not directed away; he did not abandon his people.

After a long time of waiting God’s heart was stirred up again by a girl, Mary of Galilee. How wonderfully far God has reached out to his creation, to humanity, to you and me, in the revelation of himself in order to aid us fallen people! How swiftly he has bridged the spaces of that infinite distance which separates the Creator from the creature through this pure and humble handmaid! And all creation waited in hushed silence for the girl’s heart to rouse a new and everlasting covenant. She stands at the center of this mystery. She was the first to experience the wonderment of nature, which along with her sublime faith, pledged for the mystery of the Incarnation!

And so a day came when God’s love became man. Already in the womb he “stirred up” when, through the embrace of his mother and Elizabeth, he met John, who in turn leapt for joy! Both pregnancies were stirred up by an Annunciation: Zachariah, Elizabeth’s husband, and Mary were visited by God’s Messenger, the Angel Gabriel (Lk 1:11-20; 1:26-38). Both women said Yes to their child, though both found themselves in difficult circumstances: old age for Elizabeth and unconventional for Mary, her conception being out of wedlock.

Their Yes was not a momentary agreement; it had to be lived daily. Scripture tells us that their faith was tested severely. In Mary’s case, to name but a few instances, when confronting her parents and Joseph with her pregnancy; or when riding on a donkey to Bethlehem in her last month of pregnancy; or when having to give birth in a cave amidst the smell and dirt of animals.

Likewise, we can well imagine what it must have felt like for Elizabeth to bear a child in her advanced age and not being able to communicate with her husband, rendered mute by the angel. We do not know how the people of Ein Karem reacted but I think it’s safe to say that not all were disposed well and that the couple’s odd situation stirred up unkind gossip.

poem-image-6001Advent invites us to reflect on the annunciations in our life. They were and are moments when we not only sense intellectually but also feel in our hearts that God’s Love is stirred up in us. Such annunciations often change the course of our lives. They can awaken new strength and vigor, and often call us to a new level of self-giving. This is most evident when we reflect on Mary’s Annunciation. How does a woman react when she feels God’s own physical presence and growth stir up within her? Mary’s pregnancy evolves into a unique faith experience involving her total self: the physical, psychological, and mental dimensions of her being. Simultaneously, her faith experience is the culmination of all of the Old Testament’s positive attitudes towards God. Mary’s faith is a personal crystallization of what generations before her had experienced on an often troubled and disturbed faith-journey. At the same time, her faith represents a qualitative leap from conditional to unconditional trust in God. For Mary, faith is no longer only a quality of life, it becomes Life itself—divine Life.

Advent is a time when you and I wait to celebrate what the world waited for two millennia ago and what we prepare for to come. In a culture of instant gratification, we are not used to waiting any more. And yet, love and life need to grow and mature in order to last and bear fruit. Mary knew how to fill this time of waiting with quiet longing and anticipation. Thus a Christian Advent becomes an opportunity to reawaken within ourselves the true meaning of waiting by letting our faith be stirred up for the mystery of Christ, the Messiah, who was expected for long centuries, and yet not recognized by the rich and powerful of his day when he was born in poverty, in Bethlehem.

This Advent, may our hearts be stirred up as we join Mary in her waiting. One way to do so is the daily prayer of the Angelus which recalls the Mystery of the Incarnation and at the same time the three steps of Christian existence:

  1. To listen and receive: The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary and she conceived of the Holy Spirit!
  2. To decide personally and freely: Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to thy word.
  3. To let it be done and trust that God knows best! And the Word was made flesh and dwelled among us.

Let us pray,
Pour forth, we beseech Thee, Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that, we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

And as we wait, allow the Father’s Love to stir up your whole being again and anew for Christ to be born in the manger of our hearts.

[1] See more at: http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/activities/view.cfm?id=959#sthash.oBlAVSgA.dpuf

Singing the Season: Advent Introits (part 1)

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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As we begin a new liturgical year, I thought it an appropriate time to take a look at an often-overlooked liturgical moment: the beginning of the Mass. People often make the mistake of thinking that the truly mysterious part of the Mass doesn’t “kick in” until about 10 minutes in to the liturgy, but this isn’t actually the case. The mystery of the Eucharistic celebration doesn’t begin with the Liturgy of the Word, or even the institution narrative of the Eucharistic Prayer. The mystery of the Eucharistic celebration begins the moment you leave for the church. The grace of the Holy Spirit, the love of God poured into the hearts of men and women everywhere and at every moment and in every place, draws people to seek the source of their life and discover their true end in its summit, and there is only one place on earth that is both the source and the summit of the Christian life: the Mass (cf. Lumen Gentium, 11).

So if the mystery of the Mass begins with the promptings of the Holy Spirit, before a person even darkens the door of a church, then it stands to reason that no part of this celebration stands outside of the realm of this mystery. Every word, every gesture, every action is rife with richness and meaning. Including the words, gestures, and actions that get the whole ball rolling: the Introductory Rites. And what introduces the Introductory Rites? Music.

According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the music sung at the beginning of Mass is more than an aesthetically pleasing way to move the priest from the back (or side) of the church to the front. This music serves to “open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical time or festivity,” and, yes, “accompany the procession of the priest and ministers” (GIRM, 47). In other words, this music gathers the individuals of the assembly—who have come from across the street, across town, or even across the country—and draws them into one voice, one body, offering one prayer to the Father through the One Mediator, Christ (1 Tim 2:5), through the grace of the Holy Spirit.

In many Catholic parishes today (if not most), the Mass begins with a congregational hymn, usually chosen because its text compliments or highlights other elements of the liturgical celebration like the Scripture passages prescribed for the day or the liturgical season. Many beautiful hymns have been written throughout the history of the Church, and during Advent, perennial favorites are brought forth from the treasury such as hymnalO Come, O Come, Emmanuel, Creator of the Stars of Night, and People, Look East. As beautiful as these hymns are, and as much as I love singing them throughout this season, I’ve found myself drawn to the texts actually given to us by the Church for this liturgical moment, discovering within them a source of contemplation—a new (old) point of entry into the mystery of the Eucharist; a mystery that, like God himself, is ever ancient and ever new. This Advent, I’m rediscovering the Introit.

Before the now familiar four-fold pattern of congregational hymns became normative (Entrance, Offertory, Communion, Recessional), Mass began with the Introit, which takes its name from the Latin word for “entrance,” introitus. Every single celebration of the liturgy has a designated Introit, found in the Roman Missal along with the various prayers of the priest like the Collect, the Prayer over the Offerings, and the Prayer after Communion. Mass_001-200x300What is remarkable is that the texts for the Introit are specifically and intentionally chosen according to the liturgical feast being celebrated, and they serve an important, beautiful, mysterious purpose. Equally remarkable is that many people are unfamiliar with them.

Over these four weeks of Advent, I’m going to spend time with these texts that open the door, as it were, to the marriage feast of the Lamb. I’ll be taking a look at their sources in Scripture, the ways in which they tie in to the liturgical season, and how they’ve been sung across the centuries. Believe it or not, composers today are still setting these texts to music, and many of them—like the composer of this week’s contemporary setting—are even drawing inspiration from the ancient chant melodies of these Introits, using those melodies as a springboard in their crafting of a new “song of praise to our God” (cf. Ps 40:3). I hope to discover a new layer of depth within the Entrance Rite of the Mass that will enrich my (and hopefully your) understanding of and appreciation for the Advent liturgies. At the very least, there’s going to be some beautiful music involved.

adtelevavi700In the original Latin, the Introit for the First Sunday of Advent is:

Ad te [Domine] levavi animam meam, Deus meus, in te confido: non erubescam neque irrideant me inimici mei. Etenim universi qui te expectant non confundentur. Vias tuas, Domine, demonstra mihi: et semitas tuas edoce me.

Now if, like me, you know just enough Latin to get yourself in trouble (“Et tu, Brute?”), here’s an English translation, courtesy of the monks of Solesmes:

Unto you have I lifted up my soul. O my God, I trust in you, let me not be put to shame; do not allow my enemies to laugh at me; for none of those who are awaiting you will be disappointed. O Lord, make me know your ways. Teach me your paths.

And finally, in the current Roman Missal, we read:

To you, I lift up my soul, O my God. In you, I have trusted; let me not be put to shame. Nor let my enemies exult over me; and let none who hope in you be put to shame.

(In case you were wondering why the current version is shorter, the first two versions contain the antiphon and the first verse of the accompanying Psalm, while the third version contains only the antiphon. Nevertheless, the proper Psalm may still be sung with the antiphon.)

Both the Entrance Antiphon and the Psalm verse are taken from Psalm 25, which is the proper Psalm for the First Sunday of Advent (cycle C), and has also been designated as one of the seasonal Responsorial Psalms for Advent. So right away, even on the surface, we see that this Entrance Antiphon ties in with other Scriptures proclaimed during Advent.

On a deeper level, though, it is profoundly significant that the first words the Church sings during the Advent—in fact the very first words of the new liturgical year—are “To you, I lift my soul, O my God.” In just nine simple words, a relationship is established: a relationship of humility between us and God, between creature and Creator. But why do we lift our souls to God? Because without God’s help and protection, our enemies (sin and death) laugh at us—the devil exults over us in our sinfulness, and in this sorry state, we lift our souls to God as an acknowledgment that we are in need of a redeemer. We lift our souls to God because God is the only one who can help us. And God helps us by showing us his paths, revealing the way to himself by sending the One who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). Jesus Christ is the answer to our prayer when we beseech God, “O Lord, make me know your ways. Teach me your paths.”

In 2006, Belgian composer Ludo Claesen composed a setting of this Introit using the Latin text (he composed settings of the other Advent Introits in the years following). If you listen first to the original chant melody,


and then listen to Claesen’s setting,


you can perhaps hear some similarities between the two melodies. What is so striking about this piece, not even ten years old, is that it is firmly rooted in a musical tradition that is centuries old, and yet it still sounds fresh and new and beautiful to our ears, for it is written in a musical language that is entirely the composer’s own. This is ancient beauty that has been made new. This is sacred music that draws from the treasure house of the Church’s tradition and yet breathes forth new life by engaging with that tradition in a creative way.

Even without knowing that this piece of music was inspired by an ancient chant source, a person can still sense the yearning conveyed in its melodies and harmonies. Even without knowing the translation of the Latin above, one can still perceive in this music a lack, an incompletion, a need that, in the end, can only be fulfilled by God. “To you, I lift up my soul, O God.” Because my soul is broken. I have broken it by my sinfulness. And you, God, are the only one who can heal it. You are the only one who can triumph over the enemy who would exult over me, and you are the only one who can guide me back to your heart. “To you, I lift up my soul, O God,” and I can lift it no higher, for I am too small. Reach down and receive my soul—stoop down from heaven and save me.

This is how we begin the Advent season, and we will conclude it by celebrating God’s response to our desperate plea, when God does indeed reach down to us and heals our souls by becoming small himself—by taking on a body that can be broken as our souls have been broken by sin, by offering that body, lifting it up to the Father in love so that we might all be lifted up. We pray: “To you, I lift up my soul, O God,” and God replies: “Behold, I am coming soon” (Rev 22:12).

Follow Carolyn on twitter @carolyn_pirtle

Waiting and Liturgy: A Story of Papal Disappointment

Rose Urankar

Rose Urankar, ’16

Theology and American Studies

Undergraduate Fellow, Center for Liturgy

Thanks to a multitude of blessings, a few of my friends and I were able to go to Philadelphia for Pope Francis’s visit in September.  We even scored a couple of tickets to the Papal Mass, which was arguably the main event of the weekend.  So on Sunday afternoon, with our lucrative tickets in hand, we walked downtown toward the security checkpoints.  We were three hours early—what could go wrong?

This is the sight that greeted us:

papal lines

With jaws agape, we began wading through the sea of people, waiting for the opportunity to enter the secure perimeter.  There must have been a million people packed into three city blocks, but our hope did not falter.  Surely we would make it past this obstacle in an hour or so.

Hours slowly passed as we inched our way down 20th Street, moving at a glacial pace.  To abate our feelings of discouragement, my friends and I prayed together, offering up rosaries, hymns, and chaplets of divine mercy.  On our way, we met hundreds of people, all waiting for the Mass like we were.  We spoke with Christians from New York, Texas, and even Argentina, joining in prayer, song, and conversation.

Yet it was clear that the collective belief of the believers was slowly waning.  At four o’clock, we could hear the bells ringing, indicating the beginning of Mass.  Ok—we had missed the Opening Rites, but we would definitely make it in for the Eucharist, at least.  Right?

Time progressed, but we did not.  We waited, and we learned that waiting is perhaps the most inactive yet infuriating thing you can do. The ordeal was beginning to take a toll on my friends.  One was experiencing back pain and had to crouch on the street, curled up like an armadillo.  Another stopped participating in our conversations and just had to stand in silence.  Eventually, we all resorted to silence and our own thoughts, left to process this bizarre experience in whatever way we could.

I, however, was steadfastly holding onto hope as resolutely as I was holding onto my ticket.  Then, I heard the Communion hymn being sung as we were still deeply embedded in the crowd.  We had been waiting for five hours—five hours—and we had still missed the Eucharist.  I was tired, sore, and frustrated with our circumstances.  Incredulity washed over me as I stood, still quite stationary, among the sea of people.  My frustration came to a rolling boil, bubbling with rhetorical questions that contributed to my mental rhetoric of ridiculous defeat:  Why did this happen?  What was the point?

People walk towards a security checkpoint before entering an area under tighter security to attend Pope Francis events on Saturday, June 26, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)

Finally, as the closing hymn played, my friends and I passed through the security checkpoint. The irony was not lost on me that we were entering the space just as the ritual exit was occurring.  My group of friends was reunited but divided in our opinions on what to do next.  Some proposed that we go see the altar, but I was adamantly opposed.  We had missed the Mass; it was over.  Why would we go wading through crowds yet again just to see what we had missed?  I found the nearest patch of grass and sat down in a fury that was deflating quickly to teary hopelessness.

After letting me sit in silence for a little while, one of my friends approached and asked, “How are you feeling?”  With that prompt, I began to pour out all of my feelings of frustration, hopelessness, and depression at missing the Papal Mass, to which we’d been looking forward all weekend.  Even though he’d been feeling the same things, my friend patiently listened.  In turn, each of my friends shared their experiences, and a conversation began as we tried to make sense of the situation.  Certainly some good must have come from this.  We had met lots of wonderful people as we waited, and with them we had shared prayer and song.  Plus, thanks to the marvel that is the Internet, we had read the day’s readings and listened to the homily.

Of course, these revelations do not leave me feeling completely at peace with missing the Papal Mass.  But experiencing and processing these things in community reminds me that, as the Church, our life journeys (including our most frustrating, infuriating, and debilitating moments) are meant to be bound up with the experiences of others.

We are in a solemn liturgical time, finishing with our examination of the End Times over the next few days and moving into Advent, a period of waiting for the coming of Christ.  In these weighty liturgical moments, we are reminded of the struggles we face in our lives, from significant sorrows such as separation and death to daily frustrations brought about by waiting for and being disappointed by the mundane.  But in looking at these struggles through the liturgy, we see them not as singular but communal.  These difficulties are hard to bear on our own, but we are not called to bear them on our own.  Rather, we are called to wait them out with our brothers and sisters, the Church, confident that our liturgical lives, no matter how challenging or mundane, are to be lived alongside each other.

No Reference to Death: Eschatology Reimagined

James_CorcoranJim Corcoran

Undergraduate Fellow, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Thinking and preparing myself for the end of the world are not activities I do often. As a matter of fact, that kind of activity seems more suited to people on a TLC reality show, those who build bunkers and fill them to the brim with fortified peanut butter crackers, than to a sophisticated student of theology at an eminent Catholic university. And so, imagine my being shocked at what I read when I sat down to wade through the New Testament straight through last summer. Jesus spoke of the coming of the Kingdom of God, or what was to come in the next life, the parousia coming soon. Paul speaks of it. The Book of Revelation is all about it! And with the end of the world, my mind flooded with thoughts of judgment and damnation that just did not jibe with the Jesus I saw elsewhere. Then a thought occurred to me: the Final Judgment in Matthew is a list of statements about how we should live our lives. Then my interior mission began: I have to reclaim eschatology, or the area of theology that deals with the end times, and see it as it truly is.

Theologian James Alison
Theologian James Alison

Before we set out on our little adventure, an important distinction must be made, a distinction between an apocalyptic and an eschatological imagination, with a little help from theologian extraordinaire James Alison and his book Raising Abel: The Recovery of the Eschatological Imagination. Unfortunately, an apocalyptic imagination is the prevailing view of the end our life. In this imagination, we focus on law and justice. God keeps a tally of all the rules we knowingly transgress and at our death will judge us and are punished in accord with our crimes. This imagination, while not in itself harmful, often gets twisted all over the place. We focus on God as judge, make him punitive and judgmental and hateful. And when the God we shape in our minds and hearts acts like that, we will necessarily act in the same way toward the other. We become judgmental and legalistic, jealous and vengeful, sewing death and hatred like seeds all over our lives.

The eschatological imagination, however, is the exact opposite and affects our views of God and the other. For Alison, God is seen as “brilliantly alive and completely without reference to death.” In short, God is not created in the image and likeness of humans. He has no trace of violence, or revenger, or deceit. Jesus, in his mission on earth, was interested in “bringing to existence and making possible a human living together that doesn’t know death.” The paradigm we have of God shifts to the loving, good God we have always been taught about. If we believe in a God who gives and generates life, and if we wish to conform our lives to his, we also generate life.

I know what you’re thinking. This is very happy-clappy, all very well and good, to be sure, but very simplistic. But to get to this point of eschatological imagination, says Alison, we need to ask ourselves critical questions. Writing on Peter’s vision before visiting Cornelius (Acts 10:9ff):

The story of heaven is the story of how we learn not to call anyone profane or impure, so that a story is created in which there are, in fact, no impure or profane people, where not even disgusting people consider themselves disgusting, but rather where we have learned to disbelieve, and to help them disbelieve, in their own repugnancy. Our question as we receive the eschatological imagination must be: Who are, for me, the repugnant beasts, or for whom am I a repugnant beast? In this way, we begin to knock down the same wall as Peter.

Receiving the eschatological imagination, then, is a turn in the style of Rene Girard. We have to accept and realize that we demonize the other, that we find the other loathsome. To explain what I mean: Lamb who was slain passion1-agnusdeithere is a moment of imitative triangular desire. If I want something that is wanted by the people around me (safety and security, say), we enter into conflict with each other. The conflict reaches a pitch until we find the person or people who are the other and are unanimously chosen to be expelled from the society. This expulsion quiets down the conflict for a bit, then it, like clockwork, comes back again. But sometimes, people come along who are so nonviolent and so loving. They are different and worthy of scapegoating, and so we expel them. They have done their work, however, and the mechanisms are exposed. They expose the lie that underlies our society and our individual lives. Jesus, in other words, exposed in us the reality and calls us to shift very radically to a mechanism of life: “turn the other cheek,” “forgive seventy times seven times,” “forgive them for they know not what they do.”

To see the world in the eschatological kingdom is less a focusing on death and destruction than it is a creating of a new order in our lives and society based around love and respect and life. It is true self-knowledge. Jesus told us how the kingdom of God is and should be; reclaiming this image for ourselves calls us to some deep, sometimes scary realizations. But these realizations can only shape our lives for the better. During this Advent, as we hear read and proclaimed words of the end of things, let us reorder our lives so as to be ready.

Follow the author on Twitter: @JimCorc

What We’re Reading: mercy, religious freedom, and Christ the King

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

ND ’14, MTS ’16 (History of Christianity)

Managing Editor

 Contact Author


1) First Things’ William Doino Jr. on how mercy is still possible in “a world gone bad”:

Even the Pope and his diplomats, quite reluctant to condone military action of any kind, have acknowledged the necessity of using force to defend and protect innocent lives. The existential threat that ISIS represents is finally beginning to hit home in even the most optimistic diplomatic circles. As Cardinal Kurt Koch, the Vatican’s top ranking ecumenical leader, said after the Paris massacres, the radical Islamic state is a “satanic terrorist organization,” which murders defenseless human beings—including countless Muslims—at will. And who can negotiate with the devil?

2) In America Magazine, Barry Hudock writes of John Courtney Murray’s role in ‘Dignitatis Humanae’:

By the end of Friday the direction the debate was taking was still unclear. It was by no means certain that the schema would be accepted. Msgr. Albert Prignon, who was present as a theological expert, later wrote in his journal of this day, “Chance meetings with bishops and theologians in St. Peter’s showed that minds were wavering. Several bishops said openly that they did not know what they ought to think and how they should cast their votes.”

3) And over at Daily Theology, a “reverie for Christ the King“:

Here stands the Son of man: ecce homo. The power of this king is not what we expect, for it is truly human, and he reveals the truth that we do not live in a human world. This world sees the eternal return of the same beasts: the tired cycle of violence begetting violence; the political ruler ruthlessly guarding and losing power. To take only one of the most striking recent examples: our world sees terrorists murdering people in cold blood–Paris, Beirut, Mali–and our world responds by shutting out those most immediately affected by the violence of these terrorists. We do live in the dark night of the human become bestial.

Follow Tony on Twitter: @tonyoleck

Come to the Yeast

MLewisMadeline Lewis ’17

Theology and English

Undergraduate Fellow, Center for Liturgy

San Francisco is a city for bread-lovers if there ever was one. Scores of bakeries line the city streets, each offering particularly unique loaves to particularly devoted sets of locals. The story of San Francisco bread is a story of the search for hidden treasure. In the mid-1800s, the San Francisco area was abuzz with the pursuit of gold, and bread was an obvious staple for miners on their way to the gold fields. However, in these early mining years, a curious complication arose in the rising bread. Bakers found that the recipes that had resulted in familiar loaves back home garnered different, sour-tasting bread when baked in the San Francisco climate. However, curiously, this unexpected sourness wasn’t necessarily a bad thing: it lent a richness to the bread that began to be especially cherished by the miners in search of gold. This treasured bread became the sourdough bread that we build our sandwiches upon today.

A little while ago, on a warm evening at the beginning of the semester, I was standing on the edge of St. Mary’s lake with my boyfriend. He was peacefully silent, staring out, when all of sudden he started to sniff. He sniffed, and he proclaimed, excitedly: “It smells like good bread!” Of course, I made fun of him at the time. For one thing, I didn’t smell anything that smelled like good bread, only the slight stench of the lake and perhaps the crispness of leaves. I also laughed at his specific insistence that the smell was of “good” bread, and not just your average, ordinary loaf. And so, in the weeks following, I took to periodically exclaiming that it smelled like good bread outside as a small joke that I derived far too much pleasure from.


I’ve never been to San Francisco, and until about a week ago I’d never read about their thriving bread culture. Learning about this small and wonderful story has been just one result of a fascination with bread that has slowly been growing as the semester has unfolded: a fascination that I can’t help but attribute to that moment by the lake. I totally understand that most people don’t spend their free time watching Youtube videos about how bread is made, voraciously reading lists of the best bakeries in the world, or compulsively cataloguing all the puns that can be made out of the word “yeast”. But lately, bread has been rising up everywhere I look, and it’s made me wonder: what does it mean to look at the world around us and smell bread? And what does it mean to insist upon the distinction that this bread is good?


To see our lives in the process of baking would be to trust that we are being kneaded, molded, and warmed into selves that will nourish others. It would mean trusting that a careful Baker is forming our lives with great care, and that we are destined to rise. Perhaps it might also call for a vision of our own unexpected sournesses not as bad but good, with faith that our struggles and sorrows will lend a richness to the dough: a dough that is baking slowly into bread that we have been promised will be. Of course, this is no easy feat, because to look at the world around us and proclaim the smell of good bread is to proclaim all of the aspects of our lives as gift.

To see the world in the process of baking is our challenge as Christians, and the source and summit of this vision of creation is the Eucharist, God’s life-giving bread.

Baking is a process, and at times we may feel that our place in the process is closer to the beginning mayhem of a flour-splattered counter than the ending of a perfect fresh-baked loaf. But each time we come to the Eucharistic feast, we are reminded to praise the process: to proclaim our gratitude for the love of Christ which is molding us into loving loaves through even the messiness and the mayhem. Through the Eucharist, we discover how we are called to look at creation and proclaim that it is good: that it smells like good bread. For, when we receive Christ’s Eucharistic offering, we begin to see all of the aspects of our lives as great gifts of love. Truly, the smell of good bread is everywhere, if our hearts lead our noses to pick up the sacred smell of Christ’s sacrifice of love.

Follow Madeline on Twitter @madlew4

What We’re Reading: praying for enemies, Pope Francis, and Syrian refugees

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

ND ’14, MTS ’16 (History of Christianity)

Managing Editor

 Contact Author


1) In the wake of recent attacks on Paris, an open letter from a young Catholic:

This place is my parish church, my second home, the Lord’s. I go in. There are a lot of people. I sneak in silence to the altar dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. No room there. The only remaining spot is a kneeler in front of the altar of St. Rita, the saint of lost causes and impossible things.

2) Over at First Things, David Bentley Hart offers an “outsiders” perspective on Pope Francis:

… and Francis is writing for his Church, not for America. Of course, it is possible that one day a Christian view of reality will take root even here, in this the first constitutionally and culturally post-Christian land in Western history.

3) The U.S. Bishops call for Americans to resist the temptation to “scapegoat” Syrian refugees:”

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, R.I., issued a statement Nov. 16 saying that “it would be wrong for our nation and our state to refuse to accept refugees simply because they are Syrian or Muslim. Obviously the background of all those crossing our borders should be carefully reviewed for reasons of security.”

“Too often in the past, however, our nation has erroneously targeted individuals as dangerous simply because of their nationality or religion,” he said. “In these turbulent times, it is important that prudence not be replaced by hysteria.”

Follow Tony on Twitter: @tonyoleck