Category Archives: Catholic Worker

Vocation: Many Movements in One Symphony

Rose UrankarRose Urankar

Theology & American Studies

Undergraduate Fellow, Center for Liturgy

What the heck is vocation?  In the summer of 2013, I sought to answer this question as a mentor at Notre Dame Vision, a series of conferences where high school students learn about God’s call and begin to discern their response. The experience is not just beneficial for the high school participants, though.  Mentors receive excellent formation and are able to build a strong community grounded in faith and prayer.

So after my summer as a mentor, I immediately wanted to reapply for the next summer.  I had loved my experience with Vision, where I learned that vocation is a unique call from God to give oneself in self-giving love.  Thanks to Vision, I developed a vocabulary to discuss this with my peers and found a group of peers who became my closest friends.  This conviction, and the fact that lots of my new friends were also going to reapply, made me want to be a Master Mentor in 2014.  I loved Vision and could see myself doing nothing else.  To put it simply, I saw Vision itself as my vocation.  I was pumped, I was jazzed, I was feeling moved by the Holy Spirit.  Yet when I told the director of my hopes to reapply, his advice was:  “Wait.”

But this was my vocation!  I loved everything about the program, and I thought I fit it well.  Why would a program about vocation deter someone from participating who feels it is her calling? Confused but compliant, I decided to heed the director’s words and wait.  Although I would obviously be farther from my vocation by taking time off from Vision, I stayed away and wondered what my new experiences would teach me.

While I waited, I spent a summer at the St. Peter Claver Catholic Worker where, like Vision, I lived in an intentional community rooted in Catholic values.  But really, this experience was quite distinct from Vision as I lived alongside the poor and saw how communal living can be heartbreaking, infuriating, debilitating, and exhausting.  To put it a different way, everything at the Catholic Worker was not “Woo,” and my community did not provide me with constant affirmations.  Instead, I sometimes found myself laying my head on a picnic table, holding back tears and the words, “I wish I was anywhere but here.”

But as time went oworkern, I began to see the vocation present there.
Thanks to Dorothy Day and her legacy of Workers, I learned that Christ’s words in the Gospel in regard to mercy are not sweet platitudes, but direct calls to do radical (yet seemingly simple) acts of mercy every day.  I learned that vocation does not have to be a grandiose enterprise or something that makes you constantly feel giddy, but can be giving a stranger a warm cup of coffee, or asking your neighbor how their day went and taking time to listen to their response.  I saw that this type of daily service was our vocation, too, and treasured the conversations I had with people there about faith.

What’s more, I learned that although living in community definitely makes life more challenging, it is what makes this life sweet.  Sharing burdens with my community through fellowship and prayer was the only way I was able to bear them.  What’s more, my community constantly inspired me to bring things to God through prayers hung next to bathroom mirrors, daily Masses found through early-morning bus routes, and vespers hymns sung during South Bend summer night sunsets.  My vocational vocabulary reorganized itself in the back of my brain, recognizing the passion I felt in this space of communal living.  Maybe I could find a calling here, too?

My waiting continued as I spent a semester in Spain.  When speaking English, I have never had difficulty starting a conversation.  One thing I know about my vocation is that it will involve a lot of conversation and personal interaction.  Although I wanted to talk with the people I was meeting when I moved to Spain, my lack of linguistic prowess left me speechless, floundering and fumbling for words I did not know how to pronounce.  For the first time, I really began to listen to people with an open mind, without thinking of how I was going to respond.  I developed more empathy and humility by knowing that my thoughts were not always essential to conversations.  Again, vocation popped up in my head as I noticed how I always sought conversation, even when I did not have a strong grasp on the language.  Could something this simple be vocation?

I then worked (and continued waiting) in DC for a summer, where my faith was challenged by apathy.  Without a community at my side, I explored what it meant to practice your faith alone.  I went to Mass not for the friends I’d see, but for the sacrament it offered.  Although it is essential to practice faith in community, faith cannot be completely centered in human relationship.  Our community and relationship ultimately must lead us to God.  True Christian community exists not solely for the sake of loving, affirmative friendships, but for the sake of creating a space of prayer, discernment, and service to each other.  There, I saw my vocation unite with the universal call of Christians to come together, with people who may be very different from you, in praise of Christ.

With these experiences, I came to hear more clearly the specific tone of my calling.  But beyond this, I learned that a person’s vocation is a symphony, not just one note, containing a series of movements that draw you in throughout your life.  Vocation grows and changes with us; we will see it transform as long as we tune our hearts to the will of 1

Dorothy Day on Abortion and Mercy

Jessica Keating_headshot

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

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“Don’t you care about anything other than abortion, like U.S. military plans to invade Iran?,” a middle aged man asked a women holding a sign that read, “Abortion Hurts Women.” I happened to overhear this question a few weeks ago, when I participated in the nation’s largest Planned Parenthood protest in history.

The problem with this question and others like it (don’t you care about poor, don’t you care about the environment, don’t you care about the plight of the immigrant, don’t you care about
homelessness, don’t you care about human trafficking, etc., etc.), is that they attempt to limit the horizon of conversation to predetermined and falsely constructed dichotomies. Such questions are not neutral; rather their framing fossilizes the narrative about human dignity in our country through the unrelenting rehearsal of 11951995_10152931926825793_3853225836498330680_nslogans and arguments. These questions, whether expressed on Facebook or Twitter, in the media, or by presidential hopefuls in what seems like endless election cycles, are nearly always linked to the desire for power, to get candidate X elected. The not-so- hidden implication of such questions is that one cannot care about the unborn and militarism, or human trafficking, etc., etc. I have also heard the question inverted, so as to imply if one is really against abortion, all other human dignity issues must recede from view. In either inflection, there is a lack of nuance, distinction, and vision.

In light of the absurdity of this set-up, I have found myself reflecting on Servant of God Dorothy Day as a particularly important icon for Catholics in America who are daily tempted to fall prey to disjointed “issues”-based politics and to cultivate a comparable “issues”-based gospel. She confounded such tidy divisions and simply declined to engage the American political milieu in such predetermined ways.

Day actually rarely spoke or wrote directly on the topic of abortion. Scour her journals, articles, letters, and books. Search her prolific corpus, and one will find scant reference to that ordeal of which she had a most intimate knowledge. She wrote a fictionalized account of her own abortion in an early work, The Eleventh Virgin, and obliquely gestures to the experience in her autobiography, The Long Loneliness. Indeed, she expended her considerable journalistic talents denouncing state sponsored militarism, detailing the rhythms of Dorothy_Day_1934family life, describing the scandal of the works of mercy, writing letters, and advocating for a new social order. In part, no doubt, this had as much to do with the historical fact that abortion was not available and practiced on the scale it is today until the end of her life, but I also suspect her relative silence on the subject had something to do with Day’s own deeply painful experience of abortion.

In addition to the references to abortion in The Eleventh Virgin and The Long Loneliness, Day speaks of her abortion again in a tender letter written on February 6, 1973 to a young woman named Cathie whose own abortion left her in deeply wounded and contemplating suicide. To Cathie she speaks of pain and hope, healing and prayer. “In a way,” Day writes “to use old-fashioned language, I feel you are a victim of souls, bearing some of the agony the world is in, Vietnam, the Third World, ‘the misery of the needy and groaning of the poor’”(All is Grace, 397).

Day again mentions abortion in a reminiscence to mark her 75th birthday that appeared in the August 10, 1973 edition of Commonweal Magazine. Writing of her conversion, The Imitation of Christ, and Bartolome de las Casas, she writes:

God forgive us the sins of our youth! But as Zachariah sang out, “We have knowledge of salvation through forgiveness of our sins.” I don’t think anyone recognizes the comfort of this text better than I do. I have not yet been attracted by the present tendency to bring everything out into the light of day by public and published confessions. Were we not taught by Holy Mother Church to respect the modesty of the confessional? Or is that a silly expression? But oh the joy of knowing that you can always go there and be forgiven seventy times seven times. (Even though you wonder, in your distrust of yourself, whether you really mean or have the strength to “amend your life.”) I hope your readers can read between the lines from the above and recognize what my positions on birth control and abortion are.

In the same “letter-article,” she recounts being asked by reports in
Australia about her views on abortion and birth control. To these 2251719973_01c2c3fd40questions, she explained matter-of-factly:

My answer was simplistic. I followed Pope Paul. . . . Thank God we have a Pope Paul who upholds respect for life, an ideal so lofty, so high, so important even when it seems he has the whole Catholic world against him. Peter Maurin always held before our eyes a vision of the new man, the new social order as being possible, by God’s grace, here and now, and he so fully lived the life of voluntary poverty and manual labor.

There is a striking similarity between Day’s straightforward answer and Pope Francis’ first interview with America Magazine where, when asked about abortion, contraception, and gay marriage, he said simply, “I am a son of the Church.” And yet, such simple answers are far from simplistic. Rather, they speak of a life lived according to a particular form of life and a particular logic of love and mercy.

Day’s most formal statement about abortion appeared The Catholic Peace Fellowship’s “Statement on Abortion,” which she co-signed with six others on June 28, 1974. Here the authors write:

We make this statement to protest a policy and a practice, not to condemn any individual for a tragic decision she or he may have felt forced to make, just as in our protest against war and its destruction of human life we pass no judgment upon the individual who acts in good conscience.

. . . For many years we have urged upon our spiritual leaders the inter-relatedness of the life issues, war, capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia and economic exploitation. We welcome the energetic leadership our bishops are giving in the abortion controversy and we are proud to join our voices with theirs. At the same time we must point out that, ultimately, the sincerity of our words and theirs on any of these issues will be measured by our readiness to recognize and deal with the underlying social problems which turn many people to these deadly womalternatives, to condemn all forms of social and economic injustice and to work for their elimination and the establishment of a social order in which all may find it easier to be “fully human.”

What are we to make of these three references? The first appears in personal letter in which Day recalls her abortion and the healing grace of God. The second appears in a self-described “letter-article,” wherein she speaks of abortion in connection to the mercy and authority of the Church. The third reference appears in a formal statement, in which the authors denounce the policy and practice of abortion and call for a new social order, one which makes human flourishing easier—a society that, in the words of Peter Maurin, “makes it easier to be good.”

Taken together, Day’s remarks on abortion offer two essential insights.

1) Mercy capacitates us to see more. In her “letter-article” for Commonweal, Day quotes the Benedictus: “We have knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of our sins.” The mercy of God, fully disclosed in the person of Christ, and Day’s encounter with God’s mercy enabled her to see more of reality. Indeed, it is a life prayer, of participation in the sacramental life, that forms such a vision. Grace elevates and penetrates even that which is available to reason. It enfolds us into the logic that knits together all “life issues.”

If this sounds similar to a seamless garment life, it is because it is. But let me be clear, such a vision must avoid conflation. The image of the seamless garment like the image of the Body of Christ, with Christ as the head, is a hierarchical image. Abortion, the willful termination of human life, is simply not the same moral act as capital punishment or even economic exploitation. Rather, such a vision requires the careful and precise distinction evident in Evangelii Gaudium, when Pope Francis explained why the protection of the unborn takes primacy of place in the Church’s teaching on human dignity.

Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with
particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless pope-francis-im-not-a-marxistand innocent among us. . . . Defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems. Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be. No. 213

A society that fails to defend its most vulnerable members will soon find that it is unable to defend other human rights, that indeed, what is considered a “right” increasingly will be determined by the powerful.

At the same time, such a vision can see the inner connection of all life issues. We do well not only to remember that the realities of war, migration, and economic exploitation often disproportionately affect the most vulnerable among us namely, children, but also that all offenses against human life, in different ways and at different levels of gravity, participate in a logic of violence, in a logic that produces a throw-away culture. We also do well to remember that the realities of war, migration, and economic exploitation often disproportionately affect the most vulnerable among us namely, children. Day expresses this when, in her letter to Cathy, she sees the acute particularity of Cathy’s suffering and its universality. It is precisely because of the Church’s teaching on abortion (and euthanasia) that enables her to to speak and act with clarity, conviction, and authority on all issues related to life, to labor tirelessly against an economy that kills (53). This kind of vision is elevated and expanded by an encounter with God’s fierce and tender mercy.

  1. Mercy is a habit that requires concrete forms of practice. Peter Maurin was famous for saying that the aim of the Catholic Worker was to build a new society in the shell of the old, one that made it easier to be good. In her “letter-article” to Commonweal, Day seems to make a non-sequitur from her affirmation of Pope Paul’s upholding of respect for life to Peter Maurin. As I read over the passage a second time, however, it struck me that her abrupt change in subject was only an appearance. Indeed, for Day (and for us) Maurin is living witness to the gospel of life. He provides, as does Day, a particular enactment of a life conformed to Christ, to the one who reveals the breadth and depth of human dignity, which is made known to us again and again through the tender forgiveness of our sins. It is a life lived within the horizon of mercy.

In his concrete practices of prayer and the works of mercy, the vigorous exercise of his mind and enactment of his vision for an agronomic university, Maurin (and Day) worked to build a “social order in which all may find it easier to be ‘fully human.’” By daily practicing the way of mercy, they labored for a society in which it was easier to be good, easier to choose life, easier to say no to the will to power and violence in all its many forms.

I stood on Grape Road, with my jeans rolled up and my hair pulled back, with the young and old, with men and women who had also come to plead for justice and mercy for unborn, to call for a new 11879275_10152927735535793_2395403451959082158_osocial order, one that makes human flourishing easier—a society permeated by mercy. This work on behalf of the unborn is not exhausted by protesting, though that is critical. It is not exhausted by legal changes, though these are necessary, as the law shapes the imagination. It requires more; it requires concrete practices of care and support for mothers and their children—health care, paid maternity leave, a living wage, etc. Mercy does not choose its own way. It does not say, I will do this work of mercy but no other. Mercy is a bridge, it has wholeness, a breadth and depth that makes it easier to choose life.

What Dorothy Day Teaches Us About Calling Saints ‘Saints’

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Vision

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Dorothy is a peculiar candidate for sainthood because, after all, she expressly commanded, “Don’t call me a saint, I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.” To some, this is the final word on the matter: she said don’t do it, so stop trying. But I don’t think it’s clear that this statement means what many take it to mean, even if it is to receive privileged treatment as her expressed wishes on the matter. In order to seek to understand the meaning and limits of this now oft-quoted line, Dorothy’s own view of sainthood is instructive, which come to the fore in a compelling fashion in her apprehension of Thérèse of Lisieux.

Without a doubt, Thérèse of Lisieux and Dorothy Day seem an odd pair: the pious little French girl locked up in a provincial convent and the radical American firebrand who both served the poor and lambasted the government with a passion bordering on brazen recklessness. And yet Thérèse meant quite a lot to Dorothy, so much in fact that, as many know, Dorothy wrote a spiritual biography of the saint.PRAYER-TO-SAINT-THERESE-OF-LISIEUX The life of Thérèse pierced Dorothy’s heart in a way that glossy clichés never could because Dorothy listened to who the saint really is. Thérèse knew herself as the beloved of God who belonged to the Church. It’s not that she wasn’t pious or French or cloistered, its just that the uniqueness of her holiness is not reducible to tidy explanations. As the cause for the canonization of Dorothy continues to unfold, the Church will ask and scrutinize over the same question about the irreducibility of Dorothy’s own Gospel witness, which, like Thérèse’s, cannot be reduced to neat banner headings. And of all who happen to reduce Dorothy to a banner, the ones who risk doing so most of all are, ironically, those who stand behind her own words: “Don’t call me a saint.”

Dorothy  was born about a month after Thérèse of Lisieux died, in 1897. Needless to say, Dorothy never knew Thérèse, at least not until she lay in the maternity wing of Bellevue hospital, holding her newborn daughter, Tamar Teresa. Not yet Catholic, Dorothy could still find the appeal of a great figure who did great things, like the great reformer, Teresa of Avila, after whom she named her own child, or even Joan of Arc whose zeal led to martyrdom. She was not prepared to take seriously a quaint “young nun with a sweet insipid face” (vii, all quotes from Dorothy’s Thérèse unless otherwise noted), who seemed to obsess over minutiae that paled in comparison with the great conflicts of the day. imgresAnd yet the woman in the bed next to Dorothy mistook Tamar’s middle name for the name of the “Little Flower” and thus gave Dorothy the medal of the saint she had in her pocket to pin on the newborn child. After initially protesting, Dorothy reluctantly accepted the gift of this new saint—not because she was fond of the saint but because her love for her own child demanded a gesture of largesse. Dorothy would give her child not one but two saints: from the older saint she would give a name and from the younger she would give a “novice mistress, to train her in the spiritual life” (vii). Thus began Dorothy’s own relationship with Thérèse of Lisieux, whose holiness required Dorothy to grow in order to cherish it.

It is this growth—indeed, what is properly called ‘transformation’—that loosens the tension of Dorothy’s apparent resistance to being proclaimed a saint. It is certainly not surprising that many would hasten to echo that line when Cardinal O’Connor introduced the idea in 1997, and all the more when Cardinal Dolan began furthering the movement in 2012. The more serious her cause becomes, the more frequently these words will be repeated. Several weeks ago, Colman McCarthy invoked these words in a NCR article to protest the “bureaucratic process to get a halo atop Dorothy” as a move to defang the “heart of the American left”. McCarthy’s claim is that the move to canonize Dorothy is a move to box her in, to reduce her radicalism to domesticated proportions. Besides the fact that an anti-ecclesial bias pervades his piece, McCarthy is certainly right in noting that the canonized saints—especially the most well-known and popular among them—are often glossed over according to pithy banner headings. He thinks the move to do the same to Dorothy would violate her integrity, and he is right in this regard.stained-glass-window-saints-25543299 What he is wrong about, however, is in concluding that this is what it means to be a canonized saint and that the Church’s process of naming its saints—which usually is bureaucratic—intends such an outcome. Ironically, the most certain way to reduce Dorothy’s originality would be to cling to her as a political force, a figurehead for a cause, or even a lifelong agitator of the status quo. Try as he might, McCarthy cannot capture Dorothy according to these categories. It may in fact be the case that the only category that can capture her is that which he resists: “saint”. But—and this is the decisive but—not a saint according to how we each might prefer the saints to be, but rather as the saints are and show themselves to be. This is why Dorothy’s own devotion to the saints is so instructive: in her growth in response to them she gives witness not only to what a saint is, but to what it means to apprehend a saint.

The saints are given in order to be understood; they are not understood in advance. They are like books that one receives on the recommendation of a friend: “This book will do you good.” You take a book like this not because you have determined on your own that it is good, but because you trust the recommendation. (To take the metaphor a step further, the Church is therefore a library of good books.) Reading the book is then something like an experiment: to see if you can find the good that someone else found there. This dynamic was as true in a convalescent’s bed in Loyola and a garden in Milan as it was in that hospital room in New York. Just as it was with Ignatius and Augustine, the saints were themselves like recommended books who stretched Dorothy. She didn’t seek out Thérèse and she certainly didn’t know Thérèse was good for her: Thérèse was recommended and Dorothy had to learn to apprehend the goodness.

To read Dorothy’s spiritual biography of Thérèse is to receive Dorothy’s own recommendation of the good found in the ‘little saint’.31QD1U8zn4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ She came to recognize in the saint the universal human desire to grow in love and the response to the universal human problem of not knowing how to do it. In every way, it was the small and obscure that led to the wholeness in love that Dorothy discovered that she sought for herself. Dorothy wanted to find her answers in the loftiness of great upheavals and the overturning of power structures but was forced, with Thérèse, to contemplate the mundane.

In Thérèse’s parents, Dorothy discovered skilled artisans who poured over intricate details, whether in watchmaking (Louis) or lacemaking (Zèlie).It was this same care and attentiveness that was exercised in the Martin household, where the obscure and routine work of family life remains hidden from the world but for the one who looks closely for the intricacies of how it works. Even the care Louis and Zèlie took to live modestly and save their earnings was, when examined carefully, done in the interest of creating the “kind of home where it would be easier to be good” (31). images-2In other words, Thérèse’s parents invested in the economy of the household as the place where love was to be practiced, where mutual concern was to be the rule, and where the praise of God was expressed in multiform ways. It is telling, then, that Dorothy finds in the Martin household the basic insight that she grew to love in Peter Maurin’s vision for the Catholic Worker, “to make that kind of society where it is easier for people to be good,” (31). Dorothy’s close attention to the smallness of Thérèse revealed to her an aspect of that great good to which she would orient her life. She didn’t see it at first because she wasn’t looking to the delicacy of domestic life; that is, until she held her own child in her arms and Thérèse was given along with her.

In the account of the death of Thérèse’s mother, Zèlie, Dorothy closely observes the way in which the Church speaks communion into and through death itself. In a family where liturgical feasts marked time, it was not insignificant that the family held a party on August 24 for the feast of St. Louis, whom they celebrated to honor their own father. Even as their mother lay on her deathbed about to receive last rites, the family opens itself to the company of the saints. When Zèlie does receive last rites, the priest prays through the intercession of “Mary, St. Joseph, all the angels, archangels, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, confessors, virgins, and all the other saints,” (43). When she is sent forth from the world, Zèlie is bade a happy journey in the name of these same angels and martyrs and saints, “through Christ our Lord, Amen,” (44). comm_of_saints1Dorothy then lists Thérèse and her sisters as participants in the requiem Mass, united to this great company just invoked. When it is said elsewhere that Thérèse’s early life was a “festival of communion” (Balthasar), this is what is meant. The good home her parents created was one in which communion was practiced, even at the hour of death.

In attending closely to Thérèse—who left nothing behind except her own life as witness (for what is Story of a Soul but that?)—Day was learning how to cherish the small things, to see their incalculable significance and dignity and worth. “There is never too small an incident for Thérèse to mention in her memories,” Dorothy writes, “knowing that we can all of us match them, but not, perhaps, draw the same lesson,” (76). It is as if to say, ‘begin with the form of the witness, then contemplate its meaning: seek so as to understanding’… like trying to find what is good in a recommended book by reading it closely.

When Thérèse offers her first Communion for a poor man who once filled her with pity but refused the alms she offered, Dorothy takes note. She discerned in this the fruits of what Louis and Zèlie taught their children: “that it was a privilege to serve the unfortunate with their own hands and do the works of mercy directly,” (30). When the direct gift of alms was declined, the creativity of Thérèse took over and she offered the very Communion she received for the sake of that poor man: her own prayer became an act of embodied communion. urlWhen Dorothy—the revered practitioner of the Corporal Works of Mercy—then exalts the Spiritual Works as “spiritual weapons to save souls, penance for luxury when the destitute suffer, a work to increase the sum total of love and peace in the world” (145), perhaps we might consider that it was this creativity of Thérèse that taught Dorothy something previously unknown: that there is a depth to love that binds together what one does for the demonstrated needs of the neediest with how one gives oneself as a sacrificial offering for the life of the world. This is the genius of the saint—of any saint—to contemplate the paradoxical union of the Incarnation unto the Paschal Mystery as the good that is the foundation and climax of the meaning of the world and of each individual’s existence. To refuse to contemplate this depth of Dorothy—a depth which she herself testifies to—is to reduce her to a caricature of herself.The beauty—the goodness—that Dorothy learned from Thérèse of Lisieux is not beauty according to the world’s reckoning. It is a veiled beauty, hidden from the proud. When Thérèse was introduced to Dorothy, Dorothy was too proud to receive her as she is. Dorothy wanted greatness on her terms, a revolutionary on her terms, a saint on her terms. What she got was the saint as the saint is: a gift for her child. And at the heart of this saint was the mystery of the beauty of the One the saint herself loved:

My devotion to the Holy Face, or rather all my spirituality, has been based on these words of Isaias: ‘There is no beauty in him, nor comeliness; and we have seen him, and there was no sightlines in him. Despised and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity; and his look was, as it were, hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed him not.’ I too desire to be without glory or beauty, to tread the winepress alone, unknown to any creature” (quoted on 166).

The ‘littleness’ that Dorothy first found unappealing is the very ‘littleness’ she herself grew to love. It is the ‘littleness’ of not taking oneself too seriously, of not trusting in oneself too much, of referring all things to the loving care of a loving Father, of discovering oneself in the self-donating love of the Son, and of giving oneself over to the life-giving movement of the Spirit. This is what the saints communicate, as if to say, along with Christ who gives himself as food for the world, “You will not change me into yourself like bodily food: you will be changed into me” (Augustine, Confessions VII.10.16, Maria Boulding translation). This is not a pious gloss on the witness of Dorothy; this is, to the contrary, her own testimony about coming to understand holiness through her devotion to the one whom she at first dismissed as a ‘little saint’ because she did not conform to her notion of “saintliness”. If Dorothy is a saint then she gave to the world she first received, like Thérèse giving communion to the poor man.

Calling upon a “saint” doesn’t so much place demands upon the one called as it does upon the one calling. We who call upon them must allow ourselves to be transformed and to make room within ourselves for their holiness. urlThey teach us what it means to be human: we are to become as they are, not vice versa. When Dorothy said, “Don’t call me a saint”, I take it that she meant that we are not to reduce her to our own prefabricated ideas of what it means to be human, to be good, to be holy. To do so would be to miss the struggle and the strain, the work and the uncertainty, the striving and the deep longing that ran throughout her life and that was the home for the particularity of her own holiness. Thérèse didn’t conform to Dorothy’s preexisting expectations and Dorothy will not conform to ours.

I know this is true for myself. I would much prefer to find in the saints my own image, such as I am at present. It would be easier because I would then be able to utilize the energy I want to utilize, to grow in the manner pleasing to me, and to remain the same in all the other ways I see fit. To take Dorothy seriously, as herself, pierces through all of that. The Church is asking the question of Dorothy’s holiness in order to discern whether this witness to holiness is authentic, trustworthy, and worthy of imitation. In other words, the Church is asking if Dorothy is, in herself, an original insight into the mystery of the Incarnation, to study how the Son’s eternal embrace of human flesh transforms that human flesh forever, preserving and perfecting it at once.

This is the largest, most capacious question one can ask of Dorothy. It is also a question that requires disciplined attentiveness to who she is. As she herself learned with Thérèse, the question can’t be asked according to what we want a saint to be; it must be asked as a true act of inquiry, to discover what a saint really is. The Church has the duty of asking this question because the Church is bound by identity and mission to contemplate Jesus Christ as communicated, even today, in the Holy Spirit. It is an act of faith to entertain the possibility that the fruits of Christ’s sacrificial love have transformed this real, historical, human life. The Church names its saints because it has to if we are to believe Christ’s promises as true.the-peoples-business-5I, for one, never knew Dorothy. In fact, I was born about a month after she died. But might it just be the case that Christ who searches for each of us throughout all time finds me in the peculiar holiness of this servant of his, into whose Catholic Worker home I have both dined and served, whose devotion to the actual needs of the neediest thwarts my attempts at complacency, whose political boldness reveals the seriousness of the Gospel, and whose own love of the saints, on their terms and not hers, teaches me what it would mean to learn to love Dorothy as a saint?

Christ the King of the Universe…and the Mundane

Jessica Keating_headshot

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

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Dorothy Day passed the winter of 1948 on her daughter Tamar’s West Virginia farm helping her with the daily tasks of country life and children as they awaited the birth of Tamar’s third child. Included in a volume of Day’s diaries, On Pilgrimage, her entries from that winter show the beauty of smallness. She writes of the trials and delights of living close to the land, the pains and joys of child-rearing, and the hidden life of the family; nothing falls beneath her notice.  Noting the activities of the day on January 20, 1948, she writes:

25036143-36A3-491E-B33A-849222667E73_mw1024_s_nBreakfast of sausage, hotcakes, apples and coffee. Dishes, water heating for clothes, bread-baking. That was today. Yesterday it was pumpkin pies. These things do not take all morning so I have time for writing letters. Then there is the arrival of mail, at 11:30 in the morning, always something to look forward to in the country, with a book arriving from a friend, a package of food from my sister. Yesterday it was fish balls, cheese, baby food, candies, and two toys. (On Pilgrimage, 78)

She writes of other matters, too: of capitalism and communism, of poverty and destitution, of the “fear and distraction these days over the state of the world,” and of the duty of delight and wonder (85).

It is in the midst of one such entry, as she reflects upon the realism of joy and the paradox of the Christian life, that Day observes, “we can suffer with others, we can see plainly the frightful chaos, the unbelievable misery of cold and hunger and bitter misery” (85). Yet all the while, Day observes, we know the truth of St. Paul’s words “that the sufferings of this time are not to be compared to the joy that is to come” (85; Rom 8:18). Indeed, “if we pray enough, the conviction will come too, that Christ is our King, not Stalin, Bevins or Truman. That He has all things in His hands, that ‘all things work together for good to those that love Him’” (85; Rom 8:28).

Sizing2_800Christ the King of the Universe holds all things in His wounded, glorified hands: angels and saints, sun and moon, stars of heaven, shower and dew, fire and heat, frost and chill, hoarfrost and snow, night and day, light and darkness, seas and rivers, mountains and hills (Dan 3: 52-87). The whole of the cosmos resides in the crucified hands of Christ. These very same hands that hold the entirety of creation also hold the bread-baking and the bitter sufferings of this age, the washing of dishes and the making love, the cleaning and clothing of children, the caring for the sick, visiting of the imprisoned, the feeding of the hungry, the burying of the dead.
angry-kidsChrist’s kingship baffled the disciples and continues to overthrow our own paltry notions of kingship, whether they are notions of political messiahs or nationalistic fervor or more nearly the small realms of power we aggregate for ourselves and protect like tyrannical children. Thus we often bend the stunning reality of Christ’s reign as King of the Universe to our own pedestrian imaginings of political kingship, envisioning the vast and majestic implications of Christ’s power as King and the eschatological judgment of the Son enthroned in glory surrounded by the heavenly court as little more than a glorified president with a well-functioning congress.

Yet the one who holds the scroll in his right hand, the one who sparkles like jasper, is also the King who laid His divine prerogatives, naked, hungry, needy (Rev. 4:3; 5:1). Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI notes the paradox of the Christ’s kingship:

Jesus, the Son of Man, the ultimate judge of our lives, wished to appear as one who hungers and thirsts, as a stranger, as one of those who are naked, sick or imprisoned, ultimately, of those who suffer or are outcast; how we treat them will be taken as the way we treat Jesus himself. We do not see here a simple literary device, or a simple metaphor. Jesus’s entire existence is an example of it. He, the Son of God, became man, he shared rouault-crucifixionour existence, even down to the smallest details, he became the servant of the least of his brothers and sisters. He who had nowhere to lay his head, was condemned to death on a cross. This is the King we celebrate! (Christ the King Homily, November 20, 2011)

This is the King whose reign extends over all that is seen and unseen. This is the King who sparkles like jasper. This is the King of glory who descends into the small and mundane obscurities of human existence in order to glorify them—the baking of pumpkin pies, the writing of papers, the weeping of tears—that all may shine like jasper and diamond. This is the King who sits on the throne of the Cross, whose seat of power is crucified love.

Liturgy: God’s Healing Presence

John FyrqvistJohn Fyrqvist, M.Div.

Operations Manager,
St. Joseph County Right to Life

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Editorial Note: This post was originally delivered as a homily during Morning Prayer for the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy Symposium, Liturgy as Healing
(June 16-19, 2014). We are grateful for the author’s permission to share it here.

Is anyone among you suffering?  He should pray.
Is anyone in good spirits?  He should sing praise.
Is anyone among you sick?
He should summon the presbyters of the church,
nd they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil
in the name of the Lord,
nd the prayer of faith will save the sick person,
and the Lord will raise him up.
If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another
and pray for one another,
that you may be healed.
The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.
(James 5:13-16)

I live in the Catholic Worker community in downtown South Bend, which means I spend a fair bit of time with scraggly homeless men.  Though I love them very much, many of these guys haven’t showered in weeks, have an unkempt mane of hair and beard, and wear donated clothes in various stages of disrepair.  To the casual observer, it is obvious that they are in need.  Our needs are not so obvious.

The reading from St. James exhorts us, in all situations, to return to the Liturgy.  “Are you suffering?”  Pray.  “Are you in good spirits?” Sing God’s praises.  “Are you sick or sinful?”  Come and pray and you will be raised up and forgiven.   The need to return to God always and with every experience is universal.   Some may wear their need as an addiction, a pathology, or a tattered coat.  Many of us hide it under an illustrious pedigree and a polished demeanor.  Christ Heals the Man Born BlindBut all of us, in every circumstance, are in need of God’s presence, of returning, as the Psalmist invites, to “bow down before His holy mountain.”

For it is in God’s presence that we are able to truly worship, an act which sets us free.  In His presence we are free to shed the idols that distract us.  We are free to rightly order our loves, and conform our wounds to those he bore on the cross.  Liturgy is the source and summit of our lives for this very reason: in true worship we are made whole.  In God’s presence sins are forgiven, wounds are healed, lives are transformed.  We hear St. James proclaim, “The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.”

Pope Francis recently described the Church as a “field hospital”.  He reflected on a Church that is able to heal wounds; a Church defined by its proximity, its nearness to those in need.  What is so clear in our reading today is that there is no distinction between those in need and those who are whole.  Even the one who rejoices is told to enter into God’s presence and sing praise.  There is no self-sufficiency in the city of God.  All are brought together in worship, in healing, in wholeness.   The needs of all, visible and invisible, are laid bare before God’s throne.  He alone can bind them.  He alone can fill us, and send us forth rejoicing once again in the kingdom where “the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Encountering the Eucharist through Art: Eichenberg’s “The Lord’s Supper”

Angela BirdAngela Bird

University of Notre Dame Class of 2016,
English and Theology

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Fritz Eichenberg’s woodcut print, “The Lord’s Supper” is a simple image that presents a striking view of Christ’s continuing presence on Earth and the connection between the sacrament of the Eucharist and the Christian call towards justice and peace.

Eichenberg was a prolific print artist who illustrated many classic books including works by Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. Inspired by their shared love of Russian authors, particularly Dostoyevsky, the artist entered into a “creative partnership” with Dorothy Day, one of the founders of the Catholic Worker movement. The-Lords-Supper - top detailThe pair desired to create contemporary sacred art with an awareness of social justice as inspired by the Gospel. Eichenberg contributed his talent to Dorothy’s newspaper, The Catholic Worker, helping her to communicate the ideas communicated in the newspaper to those readers who struggled with literacy. Thus, the prints that he created were bold and memorable, economically communicating powerful messages within a single, simple image.

Eichenberg’s depiction of the Last Supper is clearly not meant to be a traditional depiction of Christ’s life, but rather a reflection on the continuing presence of Christ in the world. Using the familiar image of Christ seated at the table with the twelve apostles, it communicates a message of Christ’s presence among the poorest and most vulnerable in the world. The image presents a union between faith and justice. The participation in the Eucharistic meal is placed in the context of a scene typical of a Catholic Worker house of hospitality, where the homeless and hungry are welcomed and served in the setting of a family, with recognition for the dignity of all.

The-Lords-Supper ChristWhile Christ is central to the image, his face is not shown, and actually his image is shown in much less detail than the rest of the figures in the print. However, the other figures in the image are facing Christ and curve in toward him. Many of them seem intensely focused on him, contemplating him with thoughtful expressions. The simplicity of Christ’s figure and the contemplative, focused nature of the surrounding figures is reminiscent of Eucharistic adoration. In the same way that the faithful gather to contemplate the outwardly simple, nondescript host, the apostolic figures in this image are drawn in shared attention towards the presence of Christ in their midst. The orientation of all of the figures towards the direction of Christ communicates the fact that Christ is the center of life and service, faith and justice. At the same time, the circular position of the figures indicates their communion with one another as they are drawn together by Christ.

The-Lords-Supper - right detailThis image of “The Lord’s Supper” does not necessarily attempt to tell the story of the Last Supper as it occurs in the Gospels, but rather to serve as an image of the way that our remembrance of this event in Christ’s life is lived out in our lives, as we participate in our own redemption. The Church, the Body of Christ, is shown in the gathering of the participants at the table, as they are in the real presence of Christ. The “Lord’s Supper” becomes a living, present event. Again, the linkage between faith and action for justice through radical love becomes apparent. As the figures of the apostles live out solidarity and justice, they are depicted as active participants in Christ’s life.

Love Lessons in Uptown

Rick BeckerRichard Becker, RN, MS, MA

Associate Faculty, Bethel College, School of Nursing

Co-Director of Religious Education, St. Matthew Cathedral 

Editors’ note: This post first appeared on God-Haunted Lunatic. A version of this story also appeared on The Catholic Exchange.

Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
Gerard Manley Hopkins

The propped up coffee-table book caught my eye as I was leaving the library. uptown_coverThe cover photo of a man raising his gnarled hands in prayer was itself arresting, but what really froze me in my tracks was the title in gold caps: U P T O W N.

I grabbed it, checked it out, and re-entered a world I’d left behind some 30 years ago.

The book, subtitled Portrait of a Chicago Neighborhood in the Mid-1970s, is a collection of black-and-white photographs by Robert Rehak that evokes the raw grittiness of that urban neighborhood with an eerie precision.

Although I arrived in Uptown on Chicago’s northside about a decade after Rehak took his photos, the landscape he depicts and describes was largely the same one I encountered. Uptown was unusual for the wide variety of ethnic and cultural groups represented within its borders. Also, many of the de-institutionalized mentally ill had made their way to Uptown, along with the poor who were pushed out of other neighborhoods experiencing redevelopment. “By the early 1970s, Uptown had the second highest population density in Chicago and high unemployment,” writes Rehak. “It had become skid row.”

A skid row was exactly what I had been looking for.

At the time, I was a wet-behind-the-ears, suburban-raised, angst-ridden and disillusioned Evangelical trying to rediscover Jesus in the inner city. The ‘L’ train deposited me at Wilson and Broadway, and Jesus wasn’t there to greet me – a disappointment, but not really a surprise. What did surprise, however, was the sensory overload that engulfed and enraptured me, and which I came to know intimately after I embraced Uptown as my home.

First, the smells. There was plenty of smoke, because everybody smoked everywhere back then. And the whiff of chili, garlic, and curry, fried meats and broiled cheese, bizarre combinations of spices and foodstuffs representing every manner Uptown Theatre and Green Mill-Bob Rehakof international cuisine hanging in the air outside storefront restaurants and street level apartments – not to mention the accompanying tastes!

But the first smell to hit you was the acrid odor of the city itself. You didn’t quite know what to make of it – where it emanated from, what it was – but you’d never forget it. After moving on, years can go by, even decades, and you still expect that sour scent to envelope you when you visit again, and you’re never disappointed.

The smells hit you first, but the sights went right along with them, and you can get a pretty good idea of what the sights were like back then from Rehak’s book: A bleak and crumbling infrastructure, dirt and trash and broken glass, shuttered businesses and empty lots, and people. Lots and lots of people, and every sort imaginable. Black, white, Hispanic, and Asian. Young, old, men, women, and babies. Poor, very poor, and destitute – so I guess not every sort imaginable, because the rich didn’t come around all that often, at least to stay.

Finally, the sounds. There was the rumble and screech of the ‘L,’ of course, and the constant din punctuated by shouts and crashes and laughter at all hours. And the United Nations of faces and ethnic cuisine was naturally accompanied by a Pentecost of spoken word, from Polish to Portuguese, from Eritrean to Hmong.

Nevertheless, English was still the lingua franca, but with a twist that was startling to my untrained ear: An augmented, earthy vocabulary, and, hence, a challenge as I continue to relate this story. Writing requires words, and the words that I’d like to employ in this regard are, shall we say, an acquired taste.

But, I’ll do my best.

After disembarking from the ‘L’ and wandering through the Uptown streets for a bit, I made my way to the St. Francis Catholic Worker on Kenmore Avenue. After climbing the rickety wooden stairs to the expansive front porch, I got up my courage and knocked on the door – again hoping to run into Jesus.

jimmyNo one answered my knock, so I rang the bell. After a moment, the door was flung open, and a torrent of foul abuse spewed forth. It was a magnificent display, almost like a verbal fireworks finale at an Independence Day picnic. The greeter/verbal artiste’s name was Rosalie, and although we would eventually become pretty good friends, Rosie made it unerringly clear at the time that, in her opinion, I deserved not only death, but damnation as well for making such a racket just to gain entrance to the building.

And that was just the beginning. Jimmy was another Catholic Worker denizen who had a constant mumbling patter that was peppered with spicy phrases and exotic words. And there was old Zeke in the basement, who declared himself God the Father (making the more common claim to be Christ or the Blessed Virgin seem almost trite by comparison), and who accordingly pronounced all manner of colorful denunciations from his smoky corner La-Z-Boy in the St. Francis House basement.

Then there was Love.

Love used foul language the way Matisse used color, mixing and playing and pushing the limits. Plus, Love had a very subtle British accent – whether natural or a pretense was hard to guess – and it only added additional, ironic sophistication to her salty rants.

matisse-the-dessert-harmony-in-red-henri-1908-fastAnd here’s the funny thing about Love: She used the same language to express exasperation and kindness, derision and delight. One particular word was her favorite, and by altering her pronunciation and intonation, she could use it in a seemingly endless variety of ways, including the expression of her namesake, love, along with affection and even tenderness. Love was remarkable in that, her speech and unusual behaviors aside, she truly loved her friends, and she helped me begin to really see beyond appearances for the first time in my life.

I went to Uptown to find Jesus, and what do we know of Jesus? “The Word became flesh and lived among us,” St. John tells us. Jesus doesn’t come to us in spirit alone, but in the flesh, to know with our senses, and sometimes it’s not easy to recognize Him.

Dorothy Day alluded to this idea in her essay “Room for Christ” back in 1945:

It would be foolish to pretend that it is easy always to remember this. If everyone were holy and handsome, with “alter Christus” shining in neon lighting from them, it would be easy to see Christ in everyone. But that [is] not Christ’s way for Himself now when He is disguised under every type of humanity that treads the earth.

For those of us who sought God in Uptown, the disguises – and the salty language – were all part of the adventure. Too bad it’s only with hindsight now that we can recognize when He came by then.

That He had come by, however, is not in doubt.

After I leafed through Rehak’s book, I Amazoned a copy to my friend Jim in Chicago. Jim lived in Uptown long before I got there, and he lives there still, so I knew he’d appreciate it.

A week or so later Jim sent a postcard. He had gone through Rehak’s photos and shared them with others – including Paul, a mutual friend from those bygone days. Here’s what Jim wrote:

Thanks for the wonderful treasure of the Uptown picture book. Sure brings back memories and provokes reflection. Paul kept saying, “We were so naive.”

Were we though?

Liturgy Still Matters

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

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Sometime last week, I read with interest the comments on an article at the National Catholic Reporter on the American bishops’ vote to approve new translations for the rites of marriage and confirmation.   While a few comments were directed against the philosophy of translation used in said rites (a potentially legitimate critique), most of the commentators chided the bishops for spending any time on the liturgy at all.   They argued that the bishops should focus on issues that were really important including care for the poor, social justice, and the improvement of preaching.

USCCB Meeting

While direct care for the poor, a discussion of injustice and ways to alleviate it through the renewal of the social order, and the improvement of often tepid, disastrous preaching are essential concerns for the American Catholic, it seems somewhat problematic that questions related to liturgical prayer are perceived as a waste of time.   The vision of the Second Vatican Council was clear that the celebration of the liturgy is not simply decorative ceremony, the play thing of hierarchs.   Instead, “…the liturgy, through which ‘the work of our redemption takes place,’ especially in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, is supremely effective in enabling the faithful to express in their lives and portray to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true church” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 2).  Liturgical prayer is essential to the Church in every generation because it initiates each Christian intoMarianProcessions the mystery of Christ, into that slow transformation of our humanity that becomes a sign of God’s own life.

The tendency to dismiss liturgical concerns as “conservative,” as focusing on smells and bells alone has some validity.  Liturgical prayer understood solely as an aesthetic exercise is dangerous.  Yet, the very same problem is also evident in those who discuss “assistance of the poor” with eloquence but fail to love fully as Christ first loved us.   As John Henry Newman (no enemy of liturgical practice or care for the poor) preached against forms of English evangelicalism:

…here I might speak of that entire religious system (miscalled religious) which makes Christian faith consist, not in the honest and plain practice of what is right, but in the luxury of excited religious feeling, in a mere meditating on our Blessed Lord, and dwelling as in a reverie on what He has done for us;–for such indolent contemplation will no more sanctify a man in fact, than reading a poem or listening to a chant or psalm-tune (Parochial and Plain Sermons, Volume II.XXX).

In the very same sermon, Newman reminds his auditors that “It is beautiful in picture to wash the disciples’ feet; but the sands of the real desert have no lustre in them to compensate for the servile nature of the occupation” (Ibid.).   Thus, Newman warns the Christian that any form of “mere” aestheticism, one that does not lead to the offering of the will to the Father, is non-salvific.   Such “mere” aestheticism is not reserved for liturgical worship but also for those who enjoy having rousing conversations about injustice but refuse to give themselves over to the concrete practice of loving the neighbor (including the GodisLoveenemy) when difficult.   Mere aestheticism is not a liturgical heresy; it is the sin of the Christian who seeks to affirm one’s feelings, one’s desires, without acting in obediential love to the call of the Triune God revealed in Christ “to love one another, as God first loved us.”

Thus, the problem is not that the bishops have spent too little time on liturgical concerns.   Rather, such concerns have not yet become central to the Church’s full expression of what it means to live as a pilgrim people, infused with the Spirit, sojourning in the world.  As Henri de Lubac writes regarding the Eucharistic nature of the Church:

And as the Spirit of Christ once came down upon the Apostles not to unite them together in a closed group but to light within them the fire of universal charity, so does he still whenever Christ delivers himself up once more ‘that the scattered children of God may be gathered together.’   Our churches are the ‘upper room’ where not only is the Last Supper renewed but Pentecost also (Catholicism:  Christ and the Common Destiny of Man, 110-11).

In the rites of marriage, the whole Church receives a vision of humanity joined together in love, expressing the fullness of self-gift that must come to inform what it means to be human.   To discuss the marriage rites at a plenary session of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops is to uphold this vision of humanity transfigured.   It is to recognize that the Church’s liturgical worship is not a symbolic expression of what we believe alone, the poetry of a Church lost in its own self-indulgence but rather an efficacious participation and proclamation of the reality of divine love.

Indeed, the question of translation has at this point been discussed ad nauseam.   The future of liturgical formation, a task that the bishops (and the entire Church) must be dedicated to, is communicating anew this robust vision of liturgical participation–one that is potentially transformative of the entire human condition.  Those who worship at theToledoMarriageVows altar of the Triune God every Sunday are not attending to aesthetics at the expense of concrete deeds of love.   Rather, the liturgical participant is seeking to unite the fullness of his or her humanity to God, to become what is received, a sign of divine love for the renewal of the world.

Thus, paying attention to the liturgy is not “ignoring” the poor. Such arguments express false dichotomies, which are foreign to the Catholic imagination.   For liturgical prayer is not reserved for the elite; beauty in worship is not the province of the rich.   The rich and poor alike come to participate in the beauty of a God who loved unto the end.   Those in the Church who see questions of the liturgy as unrelated to action, as a waste of time, risk reducing the human condition to its social dimension alone.  In Catholicism, we are made to encounter a love beyond our imagination, a love that has become flesh, that dwells among us in the Eucharist, in the rites of the Church, in psalm tunes ascending to the heavenly places.   To the one who encounters such love made flesh, our imaginations must also be dedicated to see anew Christ who comes in the poor, in the marginalized, in those suffering from injustice.  To forget that the liturgy has the capacity to form us in this imagination is to reduce Christianity to a program of our personal agenda rather than a life of living into total gratitude for the gift that we have received in Christ, the gift that we partake in each time we approach the altar and receive the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.   The sins of my world.  Happy is the entire human family who are called to participate in the supper of the Lamb.

A Eucharistic Critique of the American Presidential Elections: A Proposal for Authentic Faithful Citizenship

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

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When I was a sophomore in college, I had the opportunity to take a political science course, entitled Leadership and Society.   One of our guests for the course was a Democratic staff member from the House of Representatives whose primary responsibility was securing the necessary number of votes for the passage of those bills pivotal to the Democratic party’s platform.  As he described the severe tone he used when dealing with difficult members of the House, ones who refused to vote along party lines, I realized for the first time the logic of violence at the heart of the American political system.  Until then, I had believed in an idealistic politics, one in which reason and a measure of charity defined all political relationships.  In which “democracy” was shown to be the most peaceful form of government (this was at least the less than subtle metanarrative of my courses in history and government in high school).  Yet in that moment, I discerned how deeply self-interest is rooted in the American political system.

By no means do all politicians succumb to this violence, to a form of self-interest in which obtaining victory over one’s opponent is more important than seeking truth, than acting in charity.  Yet as the days pass leading to the American presidential elections, I have begun to reflect again upon the logic of violence operative in contemporary campaigning.   Both Governor Mitt Romney and President Obama have shown in recent days how they are willing to destroy the humanity of their opponent to win.  President Obama’s campaign continues to attack Governor Romney for his wealth, despite the obvious fact that President Obama is by no means living from paycheck-to-paycheck.   On the other hand, Governor Romney blames the President for all economic woes, painting a perhaps too bleak picture of the sitting President’s leadership.  All the while, Americans are being entertained by a political circus, covered by a media forgetful of their obligation to seek truth above obtaining the scoop.  Every minuscule verbal gaffe is granted days of coverage (nonetheless forgotten the moment that photos of a nude Prince Harry surface through the journalistic commitment of TMZ).  Serious issues such as rape (in recent days), poverty, and race become opportunities to score a point over one’s opponent.  All the while we choose our sides, entrench ourselves in the position of our platform, and blind ourselves to the humanity of those who disagree with us.

In the midst of the political drama playing out in the theatre of the American campaign, the Church has begun to once again form her members in what constitutes “faithful citizenship.”  An intrinsic aspect of this formation is undoubtedly the development of a robust conscience, steeped in the Scriptures, Church teaching, and the spirit of charity dwelling in our hearts.  Perhaps, this year, Catholics may go further.  For Catholics (and most other Christians, religious people, and others of good will) participation in the American political system today is not simply  (though includes) determining which candidate is more congruent with religious teaching on war, abortion, marriage, poverty programs, capital punishment, etc.  But as we poison ourselves as a society with an increasingly violent and destructive rhetoric, must our formation not transform the very root of our malaise, the violence itself?  Must not we form Christians, who refuse to participate in the violent system to begin with?

Think for a moment of the Eucharist, what Benedict XVI has felicitously called the sacrament of charity, of love itself.   In the Eucharist, we participate in a vision of perfect peace, of total self-giving love that transfigures what it means to be human.   As we are joined more fully with the presence of Christ in the transfigured matter of bread-once-bread and wine-once-wine, we become the Body of Christ poured out for the life of the world.  We become an icon of Christ’s own love for the world.  Our voices join with the heavenly choirs, and we taste for a moment the sweetness of the city of God, a city in which violence and destruction are defeated through the peaceful blood of the Lamb.  In which perfect harmony exists, for that is the destiny of all humanity:  to be one.

To participate actively in a political system that promotes hatred, violence, and disdain toward an opponent or political party is thus a profoundly “un-Eucharistic” act.  It is to confess one’s belief that violence and destruction are the ultimate meaning of the world, that love does not conquer all.  Of course, this does not mean that we are to avoid substantive political disagreements or debates that need to be had.

  • What is the function of American military power?
  • What constitutes a religious organization, and to what extent does such an organization have a “right” to live their values within the saeculum?
  • What powers should the federal government have, what powers should be reserved to local politics, and what is best taken care of by non-governmental organizations?
  • Does untrammeled spending in election campaigns, in fact, destroy the American political system or contribute to its robust development?

These are the substantive debates that our society needs, but in light of the current tone of the national campaign, we will not encounter such debates.  Rather, we will meet the manipulative use of talking points, of ad hominem attacks, of half-truths and fear-inducing falsehoods running across our television screens, all of which profoundly distort the truth, forming us in hatred, not in wisdom.

So, then, how do we form Catholics in a non-violent approach to faithful citizenship?  First, let’s shut off our televisions during the political season.   Don’t watch CNN or MSNBC or Fox News (watch baseball, it’s generally safer).  Don’t tune in to the political advertising, instead putting it on mute when it occurs.  Watch the debates (with a hermeneutic of suspicion), read about the policy, have intelligent discussions with friends, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, on precisely the substantive questions mentioned above.  If we begin to do this, we might discover how politics can be liberating, not destructive and violent.  In particular, students in high schools and college will discern a new way of being political, and perhaps in future generations, we’ll discover we have a President and a Congress capable of real, serious, albeit charitable debate, one that seeks the true, the good, and the beautiful.

Second, let’s stop placing cynical and angry posts, memes, etc., on Facebook, on Twitter, on Linked In.  There is a place for righteous anger, but it requires astute discernment to determine whether or not one’s anger is righteous or an occasion of sin.  Further, to pass on such anger to others is to perpetuate the system of violence.  Today, we need a new martyrdom; not a triumphalist one, but a martyrdom in which Christians throughout the country witness to the possibility of a politics in which hatred and falsehood are not perpetuated.  In which all politics are defined by the order of love, of seeking the good of another.  This is hard (and why there is necessarily a kind of suffering in martyrdom).  It requires that we listen to positions that challenge our deepest held beliefs, and that we don’t respond immediately in a spirit of attack.  It requires that we learn to articulate our own positions clearly, in total love.  It requires us to accept defeat at times (at least at the level of policy), and then to find other ways to live out our deepest-held convictions, even if it places us on the margins of society.     

And this leads us to the third aspect of our formation.  We must learn again that the city of God is not the city of humanity.  Politics, no matter how well practiced, will not save us.  Even the best political and economic plans of a particular candidate will never lead to an encounter with ultimate reality.  The election of “Candidate X” will not fulfill our deepest desires as human beings.  For, we will only encounter true peace, true wisdom, true love in the eschaton, at that point when the city of the heavenly Jerusalem comes to transfigure the earth.  This does not mean that we as Christians should divorce ourselves from the world, becoming quietists waiting for heaven. We are still to act, to hope for political solutions, for a world of genuine peace.  But, we must hope with sobriety.  And when political disappointment occurs (and it will often happen), we are to remember that God is the primary actor in human history, a dramatist who shines light into the darkest moments of human action.

Finally, let the Eucharist itself be the center of our political formation.  Through the Eucharist, we are transfigured into true, self-giving love.  What does this mean?  Indeed, Catholic political formation involves undoubtedly an acquaintance with Catholic social teaching.  But, the basis of this teaching (as I have argued in an article appearing in the fall edition of Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization) is Eucharistic love.  For in encountering total Love, the God-man made flesh dwelling among us, we have no other option than to love in a similar manner to the Thou that we encounter.  To receive this love is to necessarily give it away.   We love the poor, not because we are a Democrat or a socially-conscience Republican, but because in the poor we encounter Christ himself; we continue our Eucharistic worship.  We stand up for the rights of the immigrant, the unborn, the prisoner on death row, because what else can we do when formed according to the Eucharistic love of the Church?  And we delight in such love, precisely in the way that bestowing a gift is often better than receiving a gift; it is not a matter of obligation, but to quote Dorothy Day, the duty of delight.  Perhaps then, during this formation into faithful citizenship, Catholics may actually remind their members that the most “political” and most “Eucharistic” action that they can do is to not simply vote in the presidential election but find concrete ways to care for those in need in their community, through advocacy, through developing a robust education system, through attending to the root causes of poverty, and perhaps most essential through concrete deeds of love offered to every neighbor we meet.

For no matter what happens during this political season, we can still participate in this approach to Eucharistic politics, one that is far more salutary.  And in the end, isn’t this what faithful citizenship ultimately is, at least in the city of God?

Living the Lenten Life

Katharine E. Harmon, Ph.D.

Instructor, Catholic University of America and Loyola University, Baltimore

Contact Author

Among the many facets of the liturgical movement, that era prior to the Second Vatican Council which inspired and provided the groundwork for liturgical renewal and reforms, are the delightful recommendations and resources for bringing the liturgy “into the home.”  Particularly following the Second World War, consonant with the American Dream, the American Family, and the idealization of the domestic haven epitomized in scenes from Dobie Gillis to Donna Reed, devotees of the liturgy took up the banner of wholesome American home-life, by bringing the liturgy to…the American kitchen.

Ideas and resources for such ideas came through talks given at national conferences (such as the National Catholic Rural Life Conference), magazines and journals (including Orate Fratres, now Worship), and, of course, cookbooks.  American Catholics took up the task of taking the feasts and seasons of the Church Year and coordinating them to appropriate dinners and meals which could be made for and by the American family:  Mom, Dad, and children from teenagers to toddlers.  The reasoning behind such resources is clear, from the words of Florence Berger, author of Cooking for Christ:

If I am to carry Christ home with me from the altar, I am afraid He will have to come to the kitchen because much of my time is spent there.  I shall welcome Him on Easter and He shall eat new lamb with us.  I shall give homage to Him on Epiphany and shall cook a royal feast for him and my family.  I shall mourn with Him on Holy Thursday and we shall taste the herbs of the Passover and break unleavened bread.  Then the cooking which we do will add special significance to the Church Year and Christ will sanctify our daily bread.  That is what is meant by the liturgical year in the kitchen (Florence Berger, Cooking for Christ:  the Liturgical Year in the Kitchen, “Introduction.”)

As Berger indicates, she saw that one important way of making the liturgical year meaningful to her family was by folding it into activities her family regularly did in places where it usually lived.  Her family ate.  She cooked.  The kitchen was the heart of her home.  If Christ’s eucharist was the food of her and her family’s faith, then should not her own family’s food reflect that eucharist in Christ?

For Lent, then, dishes might reflect qualities of the liturgical year attentive to Lent:  maybe family dishes could be pared down, less decadent desserts, more fish and vegetables.  Lenten dishes might be an opportunity to teach a family the spiritual value of attentiveness to food—though this did not necessitate a diet of cold turnips, boiled scallions and spinach!  One could begin, simply, by making one’s own wheat bread.  As Berger wrote, “Begin it as a penitential act, if you must, an act which may take you away from your bridge game.  I’ll be willing to wager that your family won’t let you stop.  Then in the morning when all your fast allows is dry bread, see how rich and good your own bake will taste” (Berger, Cooking for Christ, 48).

Berger wished to convey how wholesome, balanced meals could actually serve as teaching or spiritual tools, especially for young families, in learning about what this season of preparation actually meant.  Such practices have been adopted by some Catholic families in the present (see, for example,

However, a Lenten spirituality which begins at home might find room to spill out into the wider world of Catholic life.  Lent is a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  These need not be solely individual activities, or even activities confined to the domestic Church of the family.  The Eucharist, we learn in the Second Vatican Council, is both summit and source of our life in Christ.  Just as one’s family life might be pointed to the summit of the Eucharist which we share in liturgy, with even a family’s meals reminding that this is a season different from the others, one’s Eucharistic experience might also be a source for reaching out into the world.

Consonant with the liturgical movement’s interest in a liturgical life which was truly holistic, Lent can also be a time which sends the family outside the self and into the world, beginning with the local parish.  A frequent community event appearing on today’s parish calendars is the parish “soup supper,” a time for parish gathering, prayer, and keeping the Lenten fast—with meatless soups, if on a Friday!  Attending an event as a family, or as a group of friends, might afford time to participate in parish life, and an opportunity to learn to know members of one’s local parish family; in the same way, serving or volunteering at one such parish event can be another fruitful way to consider how Christ is present in more ways than in the one table around which we gather at Mass.

Even further, what if one’s involvement in feeding Christ’s body moved beyond one’s family, or even friends, to perfect strangers?  Taking one’s own Lenten fast as a starting point (you never remember what it’s like to be hungry until you try going hungry yourself), what would come from taking a turn volunteering with the parish’s, the community’s, or the local Catholic Worker’s soup kitchen or food drive?  Would such a feeding simply be a patch for the giant ripping whole of poverty?  Would it only serve as an easy check-mark for one’s particular Lenten journey?  Or might such an experience—whether with family, friends, or religious organization—provide a window into a new way of seeing Jesus?  That each time we say “give us this day our daily bread” or cut or scoop our own peanut butter and jelly, pie-in-a-bowl, or casserole, we might remember this experience of being—not in the clean, easily-defined Body of Christ we hold in our hands or identify in our parish community—but in the messy, frightening, and dangerous world where poverty, the unknown, and the unrested reign?  Christ is no less present there.  And, as we learn from the Gospels, Christ is, perhaps, more present in those places where so many of us—this writer included—are afraid to look.

This leaves our Lenten possibilities wide open:  Lent is not just the liturgy we hear in the collects of our new translation.  Lent is a way of life.  It is the time of life for preparation of our hearts, minds, spirits, for the mystery of Christ.  From the altar-table of the Eucharist to the food at our kitchen tables to the food shared amongst friends and strangers, the liturgical life seeks to unite them, inviting us to live as members of that Body of Christ.