Category Archives: Catechesis

A Letter to the Newly Baptized

To the Recently Baptized:

You may already feel it- the fact that this journey you are made a significant transition when you were baptized. Though you remain on the same path towards Christ, your landscape and means for getting there have radically changed. In this post I will discuss three ways in which your baptism marked a significant moment in your journey, changing you irreversibly, and then speak to the continuing nature of your journey.

First, in Baptism you were adopted into a new family, one of choice. Though you were born into a birth family many years ago, Robin Jensen in Baptismal Imagery in Early Christianity notes that “unlike a birth family, this was a family one chose” (57). Tertullian exhorts the one being baptized saying “when you come up from that most sacred washing of the new birth and for the first time you raise your hands with your brethren in your mother’s house, ask of your Father, ask of your Lord, for special grants of grace and attributions of spiritual gifts” (58). You now have a new mother and a new father, many new sisters and many new brothers. Reach out to your new family now! You will never be alone in this world now- you are a part of a community that will always look out for you. You have been incorporated into the community like a sheep incorporated into a flock. These sheep, symbolic of you now, “were protected and cherished, rescued when in danger, and persistently herded toward their place of safety” (90) like the sheep in the image below from the fourth century.

Shepherd with sheep. Mosaic, Baptistery of Sta. Restituta, San Giovanni in Fonte, Naples. Late fourth century.

Second, at your baptism your journey shifted forever because you were given the gift of knowledge or enlightenment through the Spirit, opening your eyes to see the truth of this world more clearly. Justin Martyr describes baptism “as a means to transform Christians into children of choice and knowledge (rather than of necessity and ignorance) and he goes on to explain that ‘this washing is called illumination because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understanding” (113). The story of Jesus healing the blind man can be seen as an image of receiving this knowledge, as the blind man was transformed from blindness to an ability to see. In the same way, Ambrose says that you have received “the spiritual sight of faith and so perceive the light emitted by the sacraments” (122). Your sight is not the same as before- you can now see more clearly with the eyes of faith as the blind man being cured in this image.

Third, you are radically different now than before your baptism because you have in a very real way died and risen again. In your baptism “the former, sinful self is symbolically crucified and buried in this baptism water” (138). Not only is this death and rebirth tied with the death of your former self, it is also linked to the death and resurrection of Christ. This is great news- though you shared in Christ’s death at the font, you will also share in his resurrection. Since “by figuratively dying in the font, the initiate receives the benefit of Christ’s saving sacrifice”, you can rejoice in your resurrection with Christ. This parallel can be seen in the familiar story of Jonah- Basil interprets Jonah’s “three days in the fish’s belly as symbolizing the triple immersion of the neophyte and identifies Jonah’s font with the belly of the sea creature” (154).

Scenes from the story of Jonah, with Noah, and a fisherman. Sarcophagus, Museo Pio Cristiano, Vatican

Just as Jonah was completely transformed through his time in the whale, for you too “the renewal is a total transformation of the self” (175). Your journey is different now than before because you are different, because you have now died and risen in Christ.

Lastly, though your baptism marked a complete transformation of your journey, it did not mark the end of it. Having risen from the waters of baptism, you have joined the rest of the congregation and “realize that [you] have been allowed only a glimpse of paradise” (213). This glimpse is a “promise that this is [your] future and not [your] present reality” (213). That means you still are still moving on your journey, with the images of the promised land seen at your baptism as your inspiration. Your continued existence here on this earth is “proof that the journey is not yet over, that baptism is only the beginning step toward a final, happy ending” (213). Continue on your journey, newly baptized one, with all of the inspiration that your new eyes, new family and new birth accord!

Deer coming to the stream. Mosaic, baptistery at Bir Ftouha (Carthage), Tunisia, Tunis. Late fourth or early fifth century.

Celebrity Passings and the Memento Mori

Jill Maria MurdyJill Maria Murdy
Director of Liturgy and Music
Saint Frances Cabrini Parish,
West Bend, WI

Since Christmas, I have been involved with seven funerals in the parish where I work. My volunteer choir members and cantors have been out to sing for most of those liturgies. In my profession, death is a constant. Some families have been overwhelmed with grief, others shocked, and others just feeling a sense of grateful relief that their loved one is no longer struggling to live. My own beloved mother has been gone since 1992, and there is probably not a day that goes by when I don’t miss her. Recently I have seen posts of many other friends grieving the loss of a parent, young spouse, nephew, or child, and I have felt the angst with them.

Perhaps this is why I’ve been thinking a lot of all the celebrity deaths that have made the news lately: David Bowie, Glen Frey, Alan Rickman, René Angélil, Dan Haggerty, Natalie Cole, Pat Harrington, and Olympian Bill Johnson just to name a few. Radio playlists and newscasts telling of their life’s work have filled the airwaves, and various organizations have sought to pay tribute in different ways (like the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra who has already announced a program of David Bowie’s music as part of their fall concert lineup).

But why should these deaths shock us? Surely it is a loss when each of these musicians or actors leaves us, but what about the countless other obituaries printed each day? Don’t we mourn the teachers, the scientists? The factory workers, the grandmothers and grandfathers? Are not their legacies as rich and important to us all?

In his Instruments of Good Works, St. Benedict wisely told his monks to “keep death before one’s eyes daily.” This is something our society is not very good at: the health and fitness industries continue to grow, while others spend money on Botox, cosmetics, plastic surgery, whatever will “keep us young.” Everything we hear focuses on “living the good life,” so when life comes to a screeching halt, we are often devastated, even if the life was that of a celebrity whom we have never met.

For celebrities are those whom we have galvanized with Teflon, those who are “larger than life,” and it is unnerving for us to learn that they, too, suffer from cancer, Alzheimer’s, or a stroke. Perhaps the reason their deaths resonate with us is because they bring “death before our eyes daily.” If these seemingly untouchable celebrities are no longer young, are in fact dying, it is a sign that we too are perhaps middle aged, a reminder that this will be us someday, that everyone will eventually face death. This begs the question: are we mourning the loss of these creative artists and their gifts and talents, or are we mourning our own lost youth and inevitable death?

As Bowie himself sang in “Changes”:

Strange fascination, fascinating me
Changes are taking the pace
I’m going through
Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes (Turn and face the strange)
Ch-ch-changes
Oh, look out you rock ‘n rollers
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes (Turn and face the strange)
Ch-ch-changes
Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time
I said that time may change me
But I can’t trace time.

Or, as the book of Ecclesiastes reminds us:

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,
vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!
What profit have we from all the toil
which we toil at under the sun?
One generation departs and another generation comes,
but the world forever stays.

Nunc Dimittis and the Art of Dying

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

Many evenings since my freshman year of college (when I was in the undergraduate seminary), I have prayed before bed the canticle for Compline, the Nunc Dimittis. The well-known text spoken by Simeon in the Gospel of Luke states:

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
Your word has been fulfilled.
My eyes have seen the salvation
You have prepared in the sight of every people,
A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people, Israel.

Simeon’s words, over the course of years of praying, has become written upon my own memory and shaped my desire. It is no longer a prayer outside of myself, written upon a page, but has become part of my identity. As I prepare to sleep every night, I practice Simeon’s own readiness to die as one who has encountered “the light of the nations.”

In this way, to pray the Nunc Dimittis is a counter-cultural performance in which each day the Christian practices the art of dying. This is not the death of the philosopher, who acknowledges the brevity of life, and seeks to attune the passions to this inescapable reality. Rather, it is the death of those who have seen the very source of salvation made manifest in the weakness of the infant Son. The death of those who have desired to see God enact the definitive plan of salvation and now abide in a world in which God’s glory has taken flesh.  Simeon, who has seen the beginning of this salvation, gives himself over to the Father, already offering the gift of self that is at the heart of the Church’s Eucharistic life.

Of course, the Christian does not pray at the end of every night that he or she may “literally” die in the course of sleep. Rather, the practice of the Nunc Dimittis is a constant reminder that there are innumerous invitations to die each day, to practice that final self-offering each of us will be called to make (sleep being the perfect image or icon of this death). Our death is inescapable but the Christian takes control of one’s death through transforming even these small deaths into moments of self-gift. We take control through losing control. Like Simeon, only those who recognize the gift before their eyes of the Word made flesh, the gift of existence itself, can make this self-offering. Practicing death doesn’t mean denying that the world matters. Only the one who sees the glorious light of the created order can make this offering.

In this way, to pray the Nunc Dimittis everyday is to practice the very art of discipleship, which is nothing less than the art of dying. It is not a morose dying but a Eucharistic gift of self that renews us every evening in the fundamentals of Christian identity: to take up our crosses and to follow Jesus the Christ. It is to receive anew the light of the world in the risen Lord and to offer up the only thing that we have to give to the God who is pure gift: ourselves. The Nunc Dimittis is, in this way, an icon of Christian life as a whole, of our fellowship in the Church. As Rowan Williams writes:

“…we, drawn into communion, into participation with God through the mutual giving of Jesus and his Father, have become part of a fellowship initiated and sustained by gift, and to abide in this fellowship is to learn how we can give, to each other and to God. That we can give at all rests on what we have been given, on the sense of receiving our very selves as gift…If we are to be fully a gift to the Father, given by ourselves yet also by and through the crucified Jesus, by our association with that prior gift, we must bear the cost–which is the loss of all we do and all we possess to defend ourselves against God and others and death…The cost is the loss of images and fantasies, of clear, tight frontiers to the self. If we can even begin to give in this way, it is only because of the depth of the assurance implied in the given given us on Calvary” (Eucharistic Sacrifice–The Roots of a Metaphor, 29).

Therefore, the last gift of the Christmas season given by God through the Church’s celebration of the Presentation of the Lord is a reminder, as we enter into the season of Lent, that the return-gift that God desires is our very selves. Our whole identities, offered to the God who is love. To die into a world that is pure and total gift.

 

 

The End of Beginnings: The New Church Life

Tim O'MalleyWhen I first purchased my home, I learned very quickly about how to care for the rose bushes on the side of our house. In order to let the flowers blossom to their full potential, it was necessary to prune them with some degree of regularity (a lesson I learned the hard way after the first summer).

In an analogous manner, the Center for Liturgy has been responsible for two “growing” publications in the Institute for Church Life, both of which require a bit of pruning. We first started up a blog connecting the celebration of the liturgy to the spiritual life. Quickly, we discovered that Oblation reached an audience that we didn’t know was interested in liturgical prayer: young adults. We grew so large, that we began to publish not simply once or twice a week but daily. In the four years that the blog has been in existence, we have seen significant growth from 15% in year 1 to 40% over the last year. This blog has become a trusted voice in liturgical formation, especially among Millennials, throughout the United States. It has also become a space to feature the insights of the entire Institute for Church Life, in some sense, becoming a project that was much bigger than the Center for Liturgy.

At roughly the same time, we started up an academic publication for the Institute for Church Life, aptly entitled Church Life. This journal has been marked by its beauty, its serious study of the implications of evangelization in pastoral and social life, and for doing non-desk bound theology (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, no. 133). Our first issue, with minimal advertising and a somewhat difficult platform for reading, had viewership of 25,000 in the first year alone. We wanted more people to be able to read the pastoral theology of John Cavadini, Cyril O’Regan, Ann Astell, and more. But, the digital platform we used was too clunky, too hard to share.

Beginning last year, with the help of a new communications director, we concluded that it was time to do some pruning of these publications.  Beginning in February, we will be launching a new site (churchlife.nd.edu), which will include:

  1. Four major essays per month, dealing with theological, sociological and cultural themes related to the pastoral life of the Church. If you’re interested in submitting an essay, see our call for papers.
  2. In addition, we will have regular shorter articles that will respond to present events or pastoral needs in the Church today. These shorter pieces will include the voices of regular columnists, as well as occasional contributors from around the globe.
  3. The blog Oblation will cease to exist under that name (old articles will be migrated to the new site) but instead become Church Life’s official blog, still concerned with themes related to young adult spiritual life and often the liturgy. We’ll be publishing on Oblation through the beginning of February. When we transition to our new platform, we will re-direct readers to churchlife.nd.edu.
  4. Lastly, within the next year, we will be launching a series of podcasts and other forms of digital media dealing with preaching, catechesis, liturgy, and the spiritual life.

Through this four-fold approach, the Institute for Church Life will be at the forefront of the academic study of evangelization in the modern world (catechesis, liturgy, preaching, and social action), providing accessible pastoral resources for those in ministry, as well as engaging in the digital acropolis. We see ourselves as writing a new chapter in both the history of Notre Dame, as well as the American Church.

We hope you’ll come and join us.

For updates relative to progress around our journal, visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter.

Sincerely,

Timothy P. O’Malley, PhD

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Church Life

 

 

 

365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Day 5

ChristinaRossettiEditors’ Note: Christina Rossetti wrote a devotional entitled Annus Domini: A Prayer for the Days of the Year, Founded on a Text of Holy Scripture (1874). We will be featuring one of her prayers for the next 365 days. 

Day 5

Genesis 31:53: “Jacob sware [sic] by the Fear of his father Isaac.”


O Lord Jesus Christ, Fear of Isaac, teach us sinners, I pray Thee, to fear Thee, and much more to love Thee all the days of our life, until perfect love shall cast out fear. Amen.

 

On Martyrs and Marchers

Ann AstellSr. Ann Astell

Professor, Notre Dame Department of Theology

Contact Author

Editorial Note: This post was originally delivered as a homily during Vespers on Wednesday, January 20. We are grateful for the author’s permission to publish it here.

Brothers and sisters, in your relations with one another,
clothe yourselves with humility,
because God “is stern with the arrogant
but to the humble he shows kindness.”
Bow humbly before God’s mighty hand,
so that in due time he may lift you high.

Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you.

Stay sober and alert.
Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion
looking for someone to devour.
Resist him, solid in your faith,
realizing that the brotherhood of believers
is undergoing the same sufferings throughout the world.

The God of all grace,
who called you to his everlasting glory in Christ,
will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish
those who have suffered a little while.
Dominion be his throughout the ages! Amen.
(1 Peter 5:5b–11)

Today is the feast of a martyr, St. Sebastian, who gave his life for Christ in the third century, under the emperor Diocletian. Christian art depicts Sebastian as an alter Christus, muscular, young, bound naked to a post, his body shot full of arrows, as Jesus was nailed to his Cross. The epistle of Peter speaks to Sebastian and to all the martyrs. It rings in their ears: “Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith, realizing that the brotherhood of believers is undergoing the same sufferings throughout the world” (1 Pet 5:–9). A prowling lion! During the reigns of Nero and Diocletian, Christians were literally fed to lions.

Throughout the centuries, however, the epistle’s exhortation sounds in the present tense. When has the age of martyrs ever ended? To Blessed Basil Moreau, C.S.C., who died on January 20, 1873, and whose feast we also observe today—to him too came the call to martyrdom! A martyrdom suffered not with a pagan emperor’s arrows and not through violent death, but through the suppression of the Church in a fiercely laical France. Facing that hostility and the countless challenges that were his as a founder, he looked to the Cross as his—and our—only hope.

We celebrate these Vespers on the eve of the departure of Notre Dame students and faculty who will be traveling to Washington, D.C. to bear witness to the sanctity of human life in the midst of a culture of death. They will end their march at the steps leading up to the Supreme Court Building, where the Roe v. Wade decision was made in 1973, and where an important case with regard to religious liberty and health care is currently being considered. To the Little Sisters of the Poor, their legal defenders, and their co-litigants, the call to martyrdom has also come. Staying “sober and alert,” they have “cast all their care” on the Lord who cares for them, trusting that he “will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish those who have suffered a little while” (1 Pet 5:7–8, 10).

According to the epistle we have just heard, Christians undergoing persecution and trial can draw strength from the knowledge that they do not suffer alone, that “the brotherhood of believers is undergoing the same sufferings throughout the world” (1 Pet 5:9). In our day, “throughout the world” brings to mind a litany of place names: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan, India, China, the Sudan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Burundi, Mexico, Brazil, refugee camps in Europe. Everywhere the lion prowls. And everywhere brave souls continue to love, to hope, to confess Christ, to bow humbly beneath the cross, terrible and triumphant, that conforms the Christian to Christ. Ave Crux, Spes Unica!

On this day, January 20, in 1942, Servant of God Joseph Kentenich (1885–1968), a Pallottine priest and the founder of Schoenstatt, celebrated Holy Mass in his prison cell. Soon to be sent to Dachau, where he was to suffer for three and a half years, Fr. Kentenich freely laid down his life in union with Christ during that Eucharist, celebrated alone and in secret, but in spiritual union with his followers, some of whom were already prisoners in the concentration camp. “The brotherhood of believers” (1 Pet 5:9)! Fr. Kentenich’s risk-taking, his trusting “yes” to the Cross, expressed his deep faith in Christ, but also in the mystical body of Christ, the communion of saints. “What I do, what I suffer, how I love, affects others,” he wrote.

Let us live our lives, day by day, in a greater consciousness of our responsibility for one another, in solidarity with the martyrs who suffer not only for Christ but, in Christ, for us.

St. Sebastian, Blessed Basil Moreau, pray for us.

Counting Down Advent

Molly DailyMolly Daily, ND ’14

Intern, Washington University & Webster University Catholic Student Center Campus Ministry

Contact Author

Last weekend, my Dad joined me in St. Louis for his birthday gift – a trip to a St. Louis Blues game. We reveled in the buzz of energy and the crisp air. Though we are far from experts on the game, we joined others in raucous cheering and shouting – my dad delighting while I cowered uncomfortably at the occasional lingering fight. We enjoyed a highly anticipated evening together.

About halfway through the second period, my old friend anxiety showed up and demanded a space. It manifested itself as it often does during sporting events, where giant clocks peer obtrusively down from a jumbotron. Though I found joy in being present at the game, I became obsessed with that clock. I started my own internal countdown, calculating what time the game might end. My focus shifted away from the game itself and rushed toward the moment when the clock would hit zero and I’d be on to the Next Big Thing.

This temptation often follows me through life. I begin my day or any particular project with a focus on being present. Though my intentions are good, my focus slips and I begin planning ahead – ignoring the moment I’m in to think about what the next one will be like. While this is fueled by my struggle with anxiety, I doubt I’m alone. A look at my Facebook news feed confirms this. My friends and I post countdowns, making sure everyone knows the number of days or hours until this Big Event we can’t wait for – whether it’s the premiere of Star Wars, a party, or the end time of our last exam. But the next day, we’re looking at TimeHop and thinking nostalgically about how fast time has gone by, gushing about how much time has passed since we were freshmen or since the Last Big Thing. We become so consumed with looking forward that we forget to enjoy the moment as it occurs.

This tendency presents a particular danger during the season of Advent, even on the very last day of this season. Each year, I enter into Advent with a special prayer practice or a resolution of sorts. This year, it was reading each day’s Mass readings in the morning and writing down a phrase to take with me throughout the day. Others may mark the time by setting out an Advent wreath, or taking a devotional book from their parish. Regardless of the practice, we begin Advent resolved to wait in prayerful silence, remembering the patience and silence of those days before Christ’s birth.

But then, we lose focus. Christmas music comes on the radio, shopping begins on Thanksgiving Day, and we pull out the Christmas countdown calendars. Gone is the prayerful, focused waiting. We race toward Christmas, thinking about how many days and moments until we get our presents, or have that party. We throw away proper preparation, and when the moment we are awaiting arrives, we have no idea how we got there. We are not properly prepared to receive the victory. We haven’t postured ourselves to understand what this win means, to know where it came from.

If we wish to truly celebrate the birth of Christ and His entrance into our lives, we have to pay attention to the present moment. We must practice the posture of waiting and use Advent as a time to discover the longing for Christ in our hearts as it exists right now – not as it will in a month, or a year. In our prayer of presence, we re-order our desires as we wait patiently. We learn that preparation is not rushing past dates on the calendar, but an intentional focus on the present moment, where we simply listen and exist. Advent becomes a time of practice. Through prayerful silence and patient waiting, we are formed into Christmas people, who celebrate in the fullness and joy of the faith we have come to know and understand.

In the hockey arena, I used the practices I learned in therapy to push anxiety away and find the puck on the ice, not the time on the scoreboard. As a result, I paid attention, returned to the moment, and saw all three Blues goals. In this season of Advent, my constant prayer has been that I may listen for the voice that calls me to do the same, so that when Christmas comes, I’ll know how I got here.

Holy Trigonometry

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
Contact Author

Christmas is a feast for families, beginning with the Holy Family. But is it also a feast of the Family of the Holy Trinity? The “Trigonometry” featured in this year’s display of Christmas crèches at the University of Notre Dame answers “yes” to this question.

Trigonometry (from Greek trigōnon, “triangle” and metron, “measure”) is a branch of mathematics investigating the relationships of lengths and angles in triangles. For many of us this science can be compared to the proverbial book with seven seals with which we have become acquainted while in High School. We may still remember that the sides of a right-angle triangle and the angles between those sides have fixed relationships. Provided we know at least the length of one side and the value of one angle, we can determine all other angles and lengths. Trigonometry and its functions are implemented for example in satellite navigation systems.

TrinityChristian iconography, too, avails itself of this science when portraying the Mystery of the Triune God in the form of a triangle. This depiction, as limited and fragmentary as it may be, can tell us something about the “Divine Trigonometry.” The triangle’s equilateral sides symbolize the coequal nature of the three divine persons (est), while the maximal separation of the vertices highlights their distinction (non est). Hence, the rapport within the communion of the Triune God is absolute communion and simultaneous free unfolding of the differences of the Persons and their attributes. Moreover, the Trinity’s modus of interaction in pursuit of the common plan and goal (creation, redemption, sanctification) enables us to better, though never completely, comprehend the Revelation about the Triune God! The Council of Florence explained this Trinitarian mode of being as follows:

Through this unity…the Father is completely in the Son and completely in the Holy Spirit;
the Son is completely in the Father and completely in the Holy Spirit;
he Holy Spirit is completely in the Father and completely in the Son
(DS 1331).

Hence, the three distinct divine Persons are the same Being, the same Life, the same God, and are united in a communion of Love. The reciprocal rapport unique to the Divine Trigonometry is described by the Greek Fathers as perichoresis (round dance) and by the Western Fathers as circumincessio (mutual indwelling). Taking our bearings from this tradition, we observe complete openness and receptiveness among the Persons of the Trinity to each other. In their Being each contains the others and is contained by them. Revelation permits us to define each of the three Persons exclusively on the basis of how they relate to the other two. In the words of St. John Paul II, “the Father is pure Paternity, the Son is pure Sonship, and the Holy Spirit is pure Nexus of Love of the two, so that the personal distinctions do not divide the same and unique divine nature of the three.”[1]

MoneyThe reverse of the current $1 bill shows an unfinished pyramid topped by the Eye of Providence within a triangle. This portrayal of God’s Eye discloses another dimension of the Divine Trigonometry. Dating back to the Middle-Ages, the triangle with a pointed top indicates the unique position of God Father within the Trinity.  St. Irenaeus speaks of the Father’s ‘two hands,’ the Son and the Spirit. The Father may be seen as the ultimate authority in his fatherly compassionate love which is the principle cause of God’s activity. The Father is the sender of the Son and the Holy Spirit, but does not himself go. Thus, the Divine Trigonometry has its origin in the Trinity’s eternal plan and extends from the ineffable communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The classic example of this divine economy is the Incarnation celebrated on March 25 and made visible nine months later on Christmas. Its dynamics is revealed through the Scriptures as a bonum diffusivum sui (good diffusive of itself). It is a love that does not remain closed in a perfect circle of light and glory but offered as a creative, self-gift. God’s Love proceeds from the Father to the Son who by his “departure” transmits to the Holy Spirit the new salvific self-giving of God. The Triune God, however, did not want to accomplish this plan without the cooperation of humanity.

Luke’s account of the Annunciation recounts the Trinity in dialogue with Mary of Nazareth. As a result of Mary’s free and loving cooperation with God’s plan the total gift of herself in undivided love is rewarded with God’s gift to her, manifest in her divine maternity, and culminating in their mutual Gift – Jesus Christ!

The Divine Trilogy provided that the eternal Son of God be born and sheltered in the love of a human family which hence becomes a mirror of God’s communion. Pope emeritus Benedict XVI expressed it this way, “The human family is, in a certain sense, the icon of the Trinity because of the love between its members and the fruitfulness of that love.”[2] In other words, the divine trigonometry seeks a continuation and reflection on earth.

TrigonometryAmong the 30 crèches exhibited presently on the campus of the University of Notre Dame, one conveys this holy trigonometry. The Swiss nativity set designed by Elizabeth Kuchen can be admired at the Morris Inn. Its foundation is a triangle-symbol of the Trinity- surrounded by daisies arranged in groups of three. Joseph, Mary and the manger with Baby Jesus form a triangle; the same holds true for the magi kings surrounding them. The A-framed shelter, complemented by its firm foundation is triangular and even the smoke—or is it a lightning rod?—on top of the roof resembles an open triangle. The idyllic scene radiating simplicity and harmony allows the onlooker to be drawn to the fruit of an existence founded in God’s Trigonometry. At the points of each triangle stands a person-free and autonomous-yet centered on the other, particularly on the Child in the manger.  Each one has a unique role and mission and therefore can complement the others. Above all, each figure is supported by the base—symbol for the triune communion—on which they are standing. For that reason, this holy trigonometry mirrors the Divine Trigonometry!

But there is still more! Did you notice the four figures (only two are visible in the above photo) standing in the background? Who are they? The answer is up to our imagination. Allow me to share my thoughts.  The number four alludes to a finite, transitional state which is perhaps the reason why they are placed on a lower level.  Could they be the representatives of those who approach and observe this Divine Mystery skeptically, yet longingly? The four figures are in need of a lift in order to become part of the harmony and peace of the Holy Trigonometry, lest they turn around and get lost in the darkness! Authentic holy trigonometry—a communion in which each is completely open to the other—moves towards the disenfranchised.  The Divine Child at the center of the crèche is the measuring stick for each one of us. From His Incarnation to His death He consumed himself by inviting all into the communion of the Divine Trigonometry. As his brothers and sisters we are invited to do likewise. The Father needs us to be His arms in the world today. Are you ready to be sent and to bring the Gift of the Father to our world in darkness? Then peace and joy will triumph and the Miracle of Love is celebrated in heaven and on earth!

[1] The Trinity’s Embrace – God’s Saving Plan. A Catechesis on Salvation History (Boston 2002), 183.

[2] Angelus, December 27, 2009.