Category Archives: Church Life

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

 

 

 

What Can I Give?

Grace

Grace Mariette Agolia

Undergraduate Fellow

Contact Author

During these liturgical feasts of Christmas, the Holy Family, and Epiphany, we celebrate the giving and receiving of gifts.  There are the physical gifts around our Christmas trees that we give to each other; there are the spiritual gifts of presence and prayer that we share; and most of all, there is the gift of God in human flesh for the salvation of us all.
God gives himself to us!  That is an incredible, extraordinary, marvelous, and life-changing gift which we receive if we allow our hearts to be open to his coming, but it is also a gift which begs the perennial human question in response to this action of divine mercy,
“What can I possibly give to God in return?”
So often I feel like the old shepherd in the film The Nativity Story who feels that he has no gift to bring to God and to others.  He says this to Mary and Joseph, who are warming themselves by the fire he had offered to them on their way to Bethlehem because they seemed cold.  While they are sitting by the fire, Mary says to the shepherd, “I will tell our child about you.  About your kindness.”  The shepherd replies, “My father told me a long time ago that we are all given something.  A gift.  Your gift is what you carry inside.”  Mary then asks him, “What was your gift?”  The shepherd says, “Nothing.  Nothing but the hope of waiting for one.”
I would say that many of us feel similarly.  Growing up, we are frequently asked by others questions like these:  “Who do you want to be when you grow up?”  “How do you want to use your gifts?”  “What will you do to make a difference in this world?”
Sometimes we have an idea of what we would like to do with our lives, so we say what that might be.  But that vision often changes with our circumstances, and by the time our student lives are over, and we are working to make a living, sometimes we wonder, “How did I get here?”  “What I have missed?”  “Where am I really going?”  “This is not what I had planned.”  “Am I really making a difference in this big world?”  We can feel small and poor because the world can be a lonely and confusing place.  The gifts that we thought we had don’t seem to be massively impacting the world, we don’t feel fulfilled in giving of ourselves to our daily labors, we’re working in ways that don’t make use of our gifts because we’re struggling just to scrape by, or we’re still searching for our gifts.
I remember during one year in high school when I was on a retreat, my small group leader asked the members of our group to make a list of ten gifts that we have.  I thought about it and wrote down two or three, which seemed inconsequential to me and not of much use.  Then tears started to form in my eyes because I couldn’t think of any more gifts to write down.  I felt so small and poor in comparison to others around me.  I could only hope that I was wrong and wait for someone to tell me how immeasurably blessed I am and what a difference I can make in this world.  I didn’t know it then, but I had to understand first what “gift” really is and what “making a difference” means.
When someone does tell us about a gift that we have, which we did not initially recognize in ourselves, it is great news to us – just like when the angel appears to the old shepherd and announces to him the great gift of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.  When we receive news of such a gift, we are taken aback, an awareness is awakened in us, and we go to seek out what this great gift is and how we might share it.  When we find it and touch it, we are surprised by joy, and we express thanksgiving by sharing it with others.
And so, in The Nativity Story, the old shepherd travels to the stable in Bethlehem to see what this gift is that he almost despaired of waiting for in thinking that he had nothing to give.  When he approaches Mary cradling the infant Jesus, he kneels down and looks at the newborn Jesus with amazement.  He then slowly reaches out to touch Jesus, but he cannot bring himself to do so.  He seems too good to be true.  And why would he want to give himself to me, a poor, lowly shepherd with no gifts to give in return.
As Christina Rossetti writes in her poem, “In the Bleak Midwinter,”
“What can I give Him, poor as I am?”
magigiftsThere are people who can give their property as shelter – a stable for animals that the Holy Family uses – and there are those like the magi who can give gold, frankincense, and myrrh out of their wealth.  But what can poor, lowly shepherds give?  They don’t seem to have anything of real value to give to such an extraordinary person – God made flesh in love for us.  The old shepherd withdraws his trembling hand, but he continues to gaze in wonder at this newborn child, this indescribable gift.
Mary, however, turns to the old shepherd and holds Jesus toward him, saying,
“He is for all mankind.”
Encouraged by these words, the shepherd then slowly reaches out his hand again to touch the infant Jesus.  TouchWhen he finally touches Jesus, the shepherd is overcome with emotion and closes his eyes.   Mary then says to the shepherd,
“We are each given a gift.”
The old shepherd’s eyes widen with realization.  It’s as if Mary is saying to him, “Touch him.  He is your gift.  He is what you carry inside.  Touch him, open your heart, and he is yours!”  This infant Jesus is a gift for all human beings, including the old shepherd himself.  We are each given the profound gift of love, God in the flesh, become one of us and who shares in our suffering and in our joy.  That is the gift that we carry in our hearts – love himself.
Thus, this Christmas event radically transforms our understanding of “gift” and of “making a difference.”  Our epiphany is this:  His striking manifestation to us as true God in true human flesh reveals to us that our sinful humanity is not worthless.  He loves us!  He has mercy on us!  He is one of us!  This gift of Jesus leads us to recognize how we might share that gift of love with others.  The old shepherd, even when he thought he had nothing to give, had the gift of love:  he gave to the Holy Family kindness, warmth, comfort, and friendship, even though he was just a stranger on the road.  Even though he may have felt cold and empty, he still carried the little flame of hope inside.  The gift of Jesus helped him to recognize the value and purpose of his own life.  Life is not just about survival.  It is so much more than that.  Love makes the difference.  Talents that we have may be gifts, but they will remain just abilities if not given to others in love.  As St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:1-7,
“If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated,
it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
They are gifts because they are not our own; they are meant to be shared.  They are gifts precisely because they involve a gift of the self in love to the other.  Gift is an embodied act, and it is the way in which we are to see the world.
We are each given a gift.  What gift do I carry inside?  Do I know what gift I can give to the Christ child in my heart?   What can I give?  As Christina Rossetti writes in the last stanza of her poem,
“Yet what I can I give Him:  give my heart.”
givehearttogodWe can’t really give anything to God, except what has been first given to us.  When we give gifts, it is because something or someone makes a claim on us, and we want to express our gratitude.  It can never really be an exchange.  In the case of God, moreover, God makes His claim on us; we cannot make a claim on God.  No gift of our own will ever really be adequate to express our thanksgiving.  We can only offer back the gift he has given us first:  His love.  Our love is formed and perfected in His love, and it is that we are to give.  Jesus is the gift that we receive, and at the same time, he is the gift that we give in our worship because he is the true gift, the perfect gift, the gift of love.  He is the only one who leads us to the Father, and the way we meet the Father is through love.  Jesus is this love.  In our hearts, if only we prepare Him room, dwells Love incarnate.  The gift that we can give Him is our hearts filled with love , as we give of ourselves for each other.
worksofmercyHow can we do that?  Through the practice of mercy, which is what God demonstrates for us as the face of mercy in Jesus.  We can do corporal and spiritual works of mercy for each other, and in doing so, we give our hearts to God.  Likewise at Mass, we “lift up our hearts” to God in prayer.  We can proclaim the praises of the Lord, as Mary does in her Magnificat, humbly lifting up her heart to God and magnifying His name.  That is how we can make a difference in the world.  It starts person to person.  Mercy must be practiced constantly for love to bear fruit.  In Jesus, our poverty is made rich because he is the gift of love, and he invites us to become sharers in that gift of love.  Our life reveals its meaning in gift.  Let us lift up our hearts to embrace that love and to share it with all we may encounter.  Let us approach the newborn Jesus each day, gaze upon him in wonder in each person we meet, touch his face, and realize this gift of love that animates our lives.  Let us walk rejoicing and share this gift with gratitude.

Living Advent in the Light of Laudato Si’

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Aimee Shelide Mayer, M.A.
Coordinator, Echo Recruitment & Admissions

University of Notre Dame

Collen Mayer, M.Div., MTS, MBA
Director, Social Services
Catholic Charities of Tennessee​

Triune Lord, wondrous community of infinite love,
teach us to contemplate you
in the beauty of the universe,
for all things speak of you.
Awaken our praise and thankfulness
for every being that you have made.
Give us the grace to feel profoundly joined
to everything that is.

“A Christian Prayer in Union with Creation” (Laudato Si’ §246)

Sometimes it is hard to see that “all things speak of” God’s infinite love. During this busy pre-Christmas season of preparing final papers, projects, menus, mailing lists, guest lists, and gift lists, our focus is often turned away from God present in all of creation. But this Advent, we not only have the launching of the Jubilee Year of Mercy to ground us in praise for God’s all-encompassing love; we also have Pope Francis’ most recent encyclical, Laudato Si’, Care for our Common Home, to guide us on how to live Advent anew this year. And with the current summit on climate change occurring, we would be remiss to not prayerfully contemplate the sacramentality of God’s creation, as well as our ongoing complicity in its degradation.

Laudato Si’ provides both a theological rationale and concrete suggestions for nourishing and healing our relationship with God, others, and all of creation. This Advent, we are thus prompted to examine our lives in each of these three areas and note how we might better care for all of creation in light of Pope Francis’ pleading.

Caring for our relationship with God

In his encyclical, Pope Francis addresses not only Christians, but “every person living on this planet” in order to “enter into dialogue about our common home” (LS §3), a home created in love by the triune God:

The Father is the ultimate source of everything, the loving and self-communicating foundation of all that exists. The Son, his reflection, through whom all things were created, united himself to this earth when he was formed in the womb of Mary. The Spirit, infinite bond of love, is intimately present at the very heart of the universe, inspiring and bringing new pathways. (LS §238)

By reflecting on our relationship with the earth this Advent, we are necessarily led to examine our relationship with the triune God who created the universe and all it contains. Indeed, it seems that how we handle the gift of creation necessarily reflects our sentiments for the Giver. By responding to creation in love, we express our love and praise for God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Consider the following simple Advent practices to cultivate a sense of gratitude to God for creation:

  • Choose to incorporate a new spiritual practice from Laudato Si’ (e.g. spiritual reading, period of silence, work outside, etc.);
  • Spend quiet time enjoying creation (e.g. go on a walk, run, bike ride, hike, etc.);
  • Prepare for Mass by reading the Gospel and reflecting on it in light of Laudato Si’;
  • Honor the Sabbath by “fasting” from technology (computer, phone, TV, tablet, etc.);
  • Pray for an end to war and violence, including destruction of creation;
  • Examine your conscience to discern ways you have failed to care for creation; celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation; and
  • Include a prayer of gratitude to God for creation during grace before meals; commit to not wasting food during Advent.

Caring for others

Pope Francis further challenges us to see how our care for all of creation extends to how we care for all members of our human family—especially the poor. In his encyclical, he writes of the interconnectedness of all relationships:

We cannot presume to heal our relationship with nature and the environment without healing all fundamental human relationships . . . A correct relationship with the created world demands that we not weaken this social dimension of openness to others . . . Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God. Otherwise, it would be nothing more than romantic individualism dressed up in ecological garb, locking us into a stifling immanence. (LS, §119)

For many, the Advent and Christmas season brings human relationships into a new focus as families and friends gather from distant cities to celebrate together. Fond memories, as well as unhealed wounds, often surface during such moments. For some, these are times full of joy and love. Yet, for those who have lost or become estranged from family, these weeks can be heavy and hard. How might we care for the Body of Christ this year in light of Pope Francis’ wisdom? Here are some possible in-roads this Advent:

  • Pray for healing from a wound you are carrying related to a family member or loved one;
  • Pray for a specific group in need each week of Advent (e.g. refugees, immigrants, prisoners, unborn, terminally ill, etc.);
  • Educate yourself on global situations of crisis & hope (e.g. care for the environment);
  • Perform one corporal work of mercy (Mt 25) per week (e.g. feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc.);
  • Choose a new cause or charity to donate to, learn from, and pray for regularly;
  • Commit to a regular volunteer opportunity each week (e.g. through Catholic Charities, a local service/justice organization, etc.);
  • Eat one simple meal a week in solidarity with those who eat simply every day (e.g. beans & rice; meatless meal);
  • Before meals, pray for those who go without adequate nourishment and all who labored to make your meal possible; and
  • “Purge” your belongings and give them to an organization that serves those in need.

Caring for creation

Pope Francis does not mince words when he talks about the effects of humanity’s actions on the created world:

The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth . . . These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish. To cite one example, most of the paper we produce is thrown away and not recycled. It is hard for us to accept that the way natural ecosystems work is exemplary; but our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products. (LS §§21, 22)

Advent is a time to remember God’s own breaking into the created world through the person of Jesus. This world which God walked is the very same one we take for granted, plunder, and scavenge bare, turning it into “an immense pile of filth.” As God promises to level mountains and fill valleys (see Is 40:4; Lk 3:5; last Sunday’s readings), we continue to use creation for our own end. We turn valleys into landfills—homes for our refuse and rubbish—and level mountains through mountain-top removal, skimming and mining them to fuel the convenient “throwaway culture” we have created. Though he paints what may seem like a bleak picture of the future of creation, Pope Francis offers great hope in his encyclical. The Pope suggests concrete habits (LS §211) for us to begin to cultivate a new respect for our creation, currently groaning in travail. Here are some of his suggestions and a few others to consider adopting in the weeks to come:

  • Pray specifically for the earth and all of creation, especially those who are exploited;
  • Separate refuse you create (recycle, compost, and trash/landfill) and decrease trash production;
  • Save energy: turn off lights when you are not in the room;
  • Use less heat (even if you can afford more) and wear warmer clothes ;
  • Reduce water consumption (e.g. when showering, brushing teeth, washing dishes, etc.);
  • Go car-less! Bike, walk, or take public transportation whenever possible; carpool to work or outings with friends;
  • Compost kitchen produce scraps to fertilize the soil; plant something (even if indoors);
  • Cook/order only what can be reasonably consumed and learn where your food comes from (eat local!);
  • Educate yourself in environmental issues and responsibility;
  • Avoid the use of plastic, paper, and other disposable goods (plan ahead by bringing reusable options, e.g. coffee mug, silverware, reusable towels, etc.); and
  • Stay current on what Pope Francis is doing, saying, and writing.

As we seek to prepare a home for Christ in our hearts this Advent, we are also called to heal the physical home which God entrusts to us, and which Christ entered through his Incarnation. By reflecting on our relationship with God, others, and creation in light of Laudato Si’, we continue to learn what a life of perfect praise in union with all creatures will look like. And we pray for this ultimate union with the words Pope Francis intended for us to share “with all who believe in a God who is the all-powerful Creator” (“A Prayer for Our Earth,” LS §246):

Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.

Amen.

On Advent & Exasperated Elephants

MLewisMadeline Lewis ’17

Theology and English

Undergraduate Fellow, Center for Liturgy

 

My secret spot for necessary moments of reprieve from the hustle and bustle of college life is the children’s book section of the Notre Dame bookstore. The children’s book section features wonders aplenty: the sight of tiny humans sitting at tiny tables reading tiny books, the occasional grandparent or parent reading lovingly to a little one in their lap, and bright-colored book covers that look infinitely more enjoyable than most of the things I am forced to read for class. Usually, I browse the storybooks until I have sufficiently escaped into a world where the biggest challenges are counting the number of baby animals on the farm or helping the lost princess find her way back to the castle.

But this didn’t happen last time. What happened was that my casual browsing was interrupted by my beholding of a far-too-accurate cartoon depiction of my impatient soul: the exasperated Elephant of Mo Willem’s book, Waiting Is Not Easy.UntitledAllow me to give you a brief summary of Elephant’s simple story. Things start out grandly for our protagonist: he learns that his dearest friend, Piggie, has a surprise for him. A surprise which, as he learns to his dismay, must be awaited. He receives only a simple promise: “It will be worth it.” But of course, this does not pacify our protagonist. For Elephant, this process of waiting is filled with impatience, anger, and doubt.

“I do not think your surprise is worth all this waiting!”

“I will not wait anymore!”

“We have waited too long!”

“It is getting dark! It is getting darker! Soon we will not be able to see anything!”

“We have wasted the whole day.”

Now, as I reached the page containing Elephant’s massive groan, my soul did a massive groan of its own. When I read Elephant’s words of impatience, anger, and doubt, I knew I was reading reactions so very familiar to my own heart. Waiting is hard. And it is something that I don’t know how to do very well at all: not in my relationships, in my spiritual life, or in the unfolding of my vocation.

In his book Waiting for God, Henri Nouwen writes of the holy and waiting people of Luke’s Gospel. As he points out, all of the figures who appear in the first pages are waiting: Elizabeth, Zechariah, Mary, Simeon, Anna. Like Elephant, they learn the surprising news of a great gift, which is immediately followed by the news that this gift must be awaited. And they are promised that this will be good.

“The whole opening of the Good News is filled with waiting people. And right at the beginning all those people in someway or another hear the words, “Do not be afraid. I have something good to say to you. Waiting, as we see it in the people on the first pages of the Gospel, is waiting with a sense of promise. People who wait have received a promise that allows them to wait.”

Waiting is not easy. During Advent, we ponder in our hearts what it would mean for us to practice holy and joyful waiting, the very waiting that is the space where the Good News breaks open. As we wait for Christ, we learn to wait in a way that dwells in the promise of His love for us: waiting that dwells in love and hope instead of fear and doubt. As the days get shorter and shorter, we are reminded of how it is often precisely when we feel that it has been getting darker and darker (“Soon we will not be able to see anything!”) that the light of Christ shines clearest and most brightly. It is the patient heart that is able to encounter the infant Jesus hidden under a starry sky in a lowly manger.

May this Advent teach our hearts the worthiness of waiting.

Follow Madeline on Twitter @madlew4

The Advent of Divine Mercy

GraceGrace Mariette Agolia

Undergraduate Fellow

Contact Author

 

I often do not know what to think during Eucharistic Adoration.  Sometimes, I’m just too tired and want to fall asleep.  Other times, I think too much, preoccupied with the details of the service.  What is the priest doing?  I hope he doesn’t trip over his vestments when he stands up.  Should I be kneeling or sitting?  I hope nobody notices how off-key I am when I sing.  Oh, shoot, I wasn’t supposed to say that response yet – how embarrassing.  Person behind me, please stop shuffling and making all that noise.  Wow, look at that incense cloud wafting up to the ceiling.  Incense smells so good, but I hope no one here is allergic to it.   I wonder if I can translate this Latin text of the Tantum Ergo.  Oh no, my stomach is growling so loudly… I hope the music comes on soon.  I don’t like this song; I wish they’d stop playing and just let there be silence.  Why can’t there be a prettier-looking monstrance?  Gosh, that person looks so holy and focused in prayer.  I wish I could be, too.

holyhour

I try to close my eyes to stop taking in so much external stimuli.  But then, images from the course of the day or fantasies I conjure up enter in, and my mind wanders even more, dwelling on things that I probably shouldn’t be thinking about.  Why can’t I concentrate?  I then try to think about theological ideas that I’ve learned, such as Eucharistic Real Presence, the Incarnate Word of God, transubstantiation, and the Trinity in an attempt to help me focus.  Okay, so this is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died and rose from the dead.  He’s the second person of the Trinity, the Word of God who was present before all creation and through whom all creation came into being.  He became incarnate in human flesh at a particular moment in history.  I’m looking at the Body of Christ, the Eucharist that I receive at Mass, the transubstantiated element of bread, now no longer the substance of bread, even though the accidents are still there, but now the substance of the risen Jesus himself.  He is really present…but it looks like bread, and I still don’t really feel anything.  Or perhaps I’m touched by the light shining on the monstrance, which makes it seem like Jesus is radiating his light on all of us, but is that just aesthetics?  And so my thoughts keep spiraling.

Grace, stop.  Don’t think so much.  Just pray.

But… I don’t know how.  What do I do?  How is prayer different from thinking?  I stare at the white disc in the monstrance, trying to keep my thoughts at bay, and trying to think of things to say to God, to Jesus, who should be my most intimate friend and with whom I should be able to share the desires of my heart, my sorrows, and my moments of happiness and gratitude.  I’m mostly unsuccessful, however, because my thoughts have just turned to the historical and theological exegesis that my theology classes have been doing on the Lord’s Prayer.

I sigh, and I try to think of simpler things.  I know that I am waiting for something – an encounter with a Person, whom I know also seeks me, but infinitely more so than I seek Him.  My heart, however, seems as if it is unresponsive to the great wonder of the Lord’s real presence before me, and I begin to give up on finding some disposition of prayer before the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is over for the evening.  Will I ever be able to be open, still, and humble enough to allow God’s advent into my heart?  Finally, a short and simple prayer comes into my mind:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

This is the “Jesus Prayer.”  The Jesus Prayer is often associated with The Way of the Pilgrim and Other Classics of Russian Spirituality and the hesychast tradition of illumination and transfiguration of the human person in the Taboric light, with a special emphasis on mercy and penance.  But of course, you don’t need to know that in order to realize the power of the Jesus Prayer and the mercy of God.

What’s truly important is this:  In the resonant silence of adoration, mercy seeps in.  In a quiet, humble town in Israel, an infant was born.  God makes the first move, but it is often unnoticed.  I had never thought of Jesus before as Mercy itself, and I had not begun to recognize God’s subtle but powerful act of mercy in my life until now.

faustina
Sister Maria Faustyna Kowalska, O.L.M.

Saint Faustina, a Polish nun, was a person who recognized the importance of this divine mercy and its advent in the human heart.  The Divine Mercy Chaplet is a well-known devotional prayer that arises out of her contemplation of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and her encounters with him in visions.  The chaplet essentially has three simple prayers:

“Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and the Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.”
“For the sake of Your sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”
“O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of Mercy for us, I trust in You.”
Throughout her conversations in prayer with Jesus, St. Faustina took to heart the vital message of the mercy of God made incarnate in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Mercy itself entered into history and radically interrupted the course of human existence with the indescribable gift of his self-giving love.  The mercy of God was outpoured in the Incarnation and on the Cross; the mystery of blood and water in his flesh and gushing out of his pierced side reveals to us the extraordinary love of God.   What happens when we are the recipients of mercy?  Oftentimes, we are incredulous because we feel that it is mercy we don’t deserve.  That sort of freely given and unmerited gift shocks us.  It demands a response, but there is no adequate response that we can give, other than by offering back to God the gift given to us in the Eucharist and trusting in His great mercy.  Thus, mercy also inspires gratitude; it forms in us a disposition of thanksgiving.
Kazimirowski_Eugeniusz,_Divine_Mercy,_1934
The original image of the Divine Mercy, painted by Eugene Kazimirowski from 1934-35 under the guidance of Saint Faustina, who was not completely satisfied with the work. She later prayed to Jesus, “Who will paint You as beautiful as You are?” Jesus replied, “not in the beauty of the color, nor of the brush is the greatness of this image, but in my grace.”

Mercy transforms, and we enter into transfiguration.  Mercy inspires conversion, and it allows us to enter into an authentic freedom of the heart, freedom to receive and to give to those who are our sisters and brothers in Christ. For St. Faustina, love and mercy unites the Creator with his creation, and this is ultimately expressed in the Incarnation and the Redemption, as she explains through her experience at Eucharistic Adoration one day:

“When I was in Church waiting for confession, I saw the same rays (that is, as those depicted on the revealed image of the Divine Mercy) issuing from the monstrance and they spread throughout the church. This lasted all through the service. After the benediction (the rays came forth) on both sides and returned again to the monstrance. Their appearance was bright and clear as crystal. I asked Jesus that He deign to light the fire of His love in all souls that were cold. Beneath these rays a heart will be warmed even if it were like a block of ice; even if it were as hard as rock, it will crumble into dust.

And I understood that the greatest attribute of God is love and mercy. It unites the creature with the Creator. This immense love and abyss of mercy are made known in the Incarnation of the Word and in the Redemption [of humanity], and it is here that I saw this as the greatest of all God’s attributes.”
Another painting of the Divine Mercy was made by Adolf Hyła, as an expression of gratitude for the survival of his family during World War II. This second original is called the "Kraków Divine Mercy Image" because it is kept in the Divine Mercy Shrine near Krakow, Poland.
Another painting of the Divine Mercy was made by Adolf Hyła, as an expression of gratitude for the survival of his family during World War II. This second original is called the “Kraków Divine Mercy Image” because it is kept in the Divine Mercy Shrine near Krakow, Poland.

The Word that He is and the Word that He speaks is mercy.  And so, the silence we experience at Eucharistic Adoration is a silence pregnant with meaning.  It is the advent of this mercy in the human heart for which we try to prepare; it is this mercy that we come to adore at Christmas.  We must cultivate humility to ask for and receive this mercy.  We may have nothing to offer, except for swaddling clothes to hold him, but over time, we can let the cradle of our hearts in which we hold him become the monstrance of our hearts.

O, come, let us adore Him.  Let us prepare him room and allow Him to enter in and warm us.  His is the light that we radiate to the world from our inner monstrance – rays of divine mercy, of redeeming blood and water, that transform our vision and the world.   Does your soul feel cold or unfeeling?  Has the night of loneliness been too long?  Come, be warmed in the rays of Divine Mercy, be enkindled in the fire of His love.

Jesus, I trust in you.

Waiting and Liturgy: A Story of Papal Disappointment

Rose Urankar

Rose Urankar, ’16

Theology and American Studies

Undergraduate Fellow, Center for Liturgy

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

This is the sight that greeted us:

papal lines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Interview with Anna Keating of The Catholic Catalogue

AnnaKeatingBAnna Keating

Co-Editor, The Catholic Catalogue

Editor’s Note: This article will appear in the Institute for Church Life’s journal that will be re-launched in February of 2016.   

“Being Catholic means living a life.  The practice precedes the theology.” This is the premise behind the eclectic and ever-engaging collection of multi-media material—articles, reviews, playlists, video—that makes up The Catholic Catalogue website, with a book by the same name forthcoming in 2016 (Image Press). Anna Keating runs the website and is co-author of the book alongside Melissa Musick. She is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in First Things, Salon, America, and The Denver Post, among other publications; and co-owner of Keating Woodworks, a handmade furniture studio.

Keating’s writing has often focused on what it means to be a wife and mother in the Church and the world today. The following written interview for Church Life focuses on several topics that might help to flesh out a pastoral theology of women, in the vein of Wendell Berry’s “logic of vocation.”

What are your thoughts on the oft-discussed issue of whether women today can really “have it all”, and more generally on the attempt to balance work, family, life, and faith? How does a healthy view of marriage fit in?

I’m a little uncomfortable with the expression “having it all.” Who has everything they want all the time? There are ups and down in any kind of life, especially in communal life. And suffering is also part of life. Everyone suffers, and suffering doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ve done anything wrong. Sometimes, as in childbirth, it’s just part of the process. Most of my greatest blessings have involved suffering, compromise and sacrifice. I don’t think anyone has it all, all the time, much less the perfect life that the phrase implies.

Still I do think there’s a way in which women can have rich, full, meaningful and well-rounded lives. I’m married, raising two small children, running a website, and working on a book. There are ups and downs, good days and bad days, but I feel extremely grateful to have meaningful work both as a mother and a writer. And yet, it’s an ongoing process of discovering what’s best for me and what works for my family. If you’re open to love and relationship, meaningful work and compromise, I think there’s a way in which you can have all those things.

I married when I was 23, and a year out of college. When I was 22 and feeling called to be married, I worried—more than I now like to admit—about what other people would think about my decision to marry at a relatively young age.

I read and admired writers like Hanna Rosin, who wrote in The Atlantic recently that college girls today see a serious suitor the way they did an unplanned pregnancy in the nineteenth century, “a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future.” That squared with my experience of how many of my peers felt at the time.

When I was 22 it bothered me that getting married young made me look less ambitious in other people’s eyes. It was difficult when people I admired, my professors and peers, voiced concern. My grandmother said, “I thought you wanted to be a writer.” I know good people worried that I wouldn’t be able to “have it all,” both rewarding work, and a husband and a family.

But there is nothing unambitious, in my mind, about wanting to be in loving, meaningful relationships, married or single. Those take time and effort too. They don’t just happen, any more than a good job just happens. And the quality of our relationships and friendships, to a great extent, determine the quality of our lives.

Too often I think we assume that a “successful” life for young women needs to follow a script, or that the measure of success is income, or status. According to the current script, the twenties are supposed to be a time of professional achievement as a single person, and then in one’s thirties career-minded people are supposed to suddenly settle down and have one or two kids, while still pursuing their careers with the same intensity. I didn’t want to live my life, holding the person I loved the most at arm’s length, or waiting for the socially acceptable time to make a commitment. There is no good time to get married or have kids.

Right after graduating from Notre Dame, I tried, briefly, to follow the script. I moved 700 hundred miles away from my then boyfriend, to take a job at a magazine in New York, but we were both unhappy with the distance. One day I was walking around Midtown with a co-worker and complaining about having met the right person “too soon” when he set me straight. He said, “So you feel sorry for yourself because you’ve found what most people are looking for, before anyone else has found it.”  The next day I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself. I quit my job and starting making plans to move back to South Bend, knowing that I would need to find a job there and that this would mean getting married sooner rather than later. For me, that was the right decision. It complicated my life, because it introduced a husband, and eventually kids, into the equation, and I had to find work in South Bend, but it also meant being myself instead of trying to be someone else.

The lives of people I admire are often messy and meandering. When I met the right person, I had a lot of dreams, but I didn’t have a plan for my life. Neither one of us had a “career” when we got married, but we promised to help each other, and support each other, as best we could, as we figured out how to be married, how to be parents, and how to pay our bills together. It wasn’t always smooth sailing, but it wouldn’t have been smooth sailing if we had been single either. I just dove in and put my relationship first, and then worked out my career as I went along, and eventually things started falling into place on the professional side.

For most people, it’s an ongoing struggle to try to balance all the work that goes into creating a life, especially if you have children. In my case, it helps to have support. For example, I rely a lot on my in-laws who watch my kids, including a seven-month-old, two days a week while I write the book. They have done so much for me. The modern idea of family is so small; it’s usually just the nuclear family, or just the couple. It helps to cast a broader net and to live closer to extended family, or close community, even when that complicates the picture in terms of added responsibilities.

Looking back, I wish I could tell my 22-year-old self not to worry. I’ve been married for seven years and have two children. My kids and my husband are my greatest blessings, but I’m also very grateful for my work, first as a teacher, and now as a writer. I’m finishing a book on Catholic spirituality and practice with my mom, Melissa Musick, which will come out in 2016 from Image (the Catholic imprint of Penguin Random House), and working on this project has been a dream come true.

Instead of “having it all” I think more about taking turns and supporting each other. I was a teacher and supported my husband when he was in graduate school. He now makes and designs furniture and has supported me both financially and emotionally as I’ve been working on The Catholic Catalogue. So, we’ve just had to rely on one another and be patient with the unfolding of our lives. (I say this as an extremely impatient person. It’s something I’m learning.)

Wendell Berry once said that the logic of vocation is very different from the logic of career. And I think that’s true. He says, “You must refuse to accept the common delusion that a career is an adequate context for a life. The logic of success insinuates that self-enlargement is your only responsibility, and that any job, any career will be satisfying if you succeed in it. But I can tell you, on the authority of much evidence, that a lot of people highly successful by that logic are painfully dissatisfied. I can tell you further that you cannot live in a career, and that satisfaction can come only from your life. To give satisfaction, your life will have to be lived in a family, a neighborhood, a community . . . to which you belong.”

That has been true for me. We’re called to be faithful to our callings as Christians, and keep at it, not necessarily to be successful. And vocations are not just about the work you get paid to do, they’re about being who you are called to be. Being a mother or father is incredibly important and meaningful work. Many men and women feel called to be parents but they don’t know what to do with that longing because it doesn’t make sense in terms of the logic of career alone. It’s not about making more money or traveling the world. It means living a sort of monk-like existence when your children are small, and it’s not something you can put on your CV. But, there are a lot of amazing things in life that you can’t put on your CV.

Looking back, my twenties were a time of growth and discovery, but it was self-discovery in relationship: with my husband, my students, my children, family, and friends. At the end of the day, for men and women, even if you’re called to be single, I think you often have to make your relationships a priority.

 How has your identity as a Catholic woman (and your understanding of it) developed throughout your own history?

When I was younger I identified as a Catholic feminist. As I’ve grown, I think of myself less in terms of those categories.

I’m just a Catholic, someone in need of God’s mercy and the sacraments. That doesn’t mean there aren’t larger issues that still need to be addressed in terms of the role of women in the Church, because there are, but my identity as “just a Catholic,” has its roots, I think, in the way I was raised. I never felt like a second-class Catholic because I was a girl. My sisters and I were baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ just like our brothers were. We were all baptized “priest, prophet, and king.” I was raised to believe that men and women weren’t just equal; they were both of infinite value.

What are the biggest obstacles facing Christian women who seek a robust vocation today, on a larger cultural level?

 The Church is a slow-moving institution. This is good at times, but it can be challenging at other times. The Church needs to continue to work to include women’s voices. Some Catholics don’t know what to do with laywomen, or even women religious, in leadership. And of course, we don’t have enough women in leadership positions in the Church. I would love to see women returned to the diaconate, for example.

But Pope Francis is working on the need for female leadership in the Church. He’s said, “The feminine genius is needed whenever we make important decisions.” And it’s clear that he’s been trying to make changes, for instance, by appointing the first woman, Sr. Luzia Premoli, to a Vatican Congregation. But clearly the work is ongoing.

Still, most of the issues on the day-to-day level in the Church are people problems, not theological problems. There are some people in leadership who don’t know how to relate to women, and perhaps, don’t want to hear their stories.

On the parish level, we need people who are more loving and compassionate to one another, who are willing to listen and learn, and to pass on the faith in all its fullness. If you have a loving community, as a Catholic woman, you feel valued and appreciated. If you have a pastor who treats women like children, of course, you feel undervalued.

What do women need to hear and see more of from their pastors and parish leaders?

Pastors and parish leaders need to be open to women’s gifts. I have a wonderful priest, Fr. Drew Gawrych, CSC, who came up to me at a church picnic and asked me to get involved in a mother’s group at our parish, after some women in the community told him they thought there was a need. He introduced me to a lot of wonderful and holy women that I wouldn’t otherwise have known in my church.

I think the Church needs more pastors like him—men who are comfortable with women in various roles, and who are responsive to the needs of women in their communities. Fr. Drew often has women speak, sharing their conversion stories from RCIA, for example. And I have learned so much from hearing these women’s stories at Mass. It’s been a gift. And I could mention many other priests I’ve known who are like him.

When I was growing up, my home diocese, the diocese of Colorado Springs, had a wonderful bishop, Richard Hanifen. He played a crucial role in my faith formation and decision to remain Catholic. I’ll never forget what a humble and gracious man he was. He welcomed my questions about women priests, for example, and we used to have wonderful, if spirited, discussions. He never made me feel like the Church was afraid of dialogue, and he treated me like I mattered, even though I was all of sixteen at the time.

When I was in high school my mother was the Catholic campus minister at Colorado College. I’ll never forget how Bishop Hanifen would sit in the back of Shove Chapel and listen to her speak. He was a Bishop in the spirit of Pope Francis, truly a servant of the Servants of God, be they male or female. He knew how lead, but he also knew how to listen. The Church needs more women in leadership, but it also needs more priests and bishops like Drew Gawrych and Richard Hanifen.

Also on this grander scale, what unique, positive aspects about being a Catholic woman are worth acknowledging and fleshing out?

One of the things I love most about being a Catholic woman are the ways in which the Church honors and remembers the holy women who have gone before us. Of course, Catholics have a special devotion to Mary the Mother of God, and Mary Magdalene, the Apostle to the Apostles, but all the women saints play a crucial role and are honored by the Church.

When I was a kid I chose Teresa of Avila to be my confirmation saint. I liked that she had a big personality and said funny things like, “May God protect me from gloomy saints.”

Teresa of Avila demonstrated to me that the Church valued strong and intelligent women. She founded seventeen convents, wrote four books, is considered one of the masters of Christian prayer, and is a Doctor of the Church.

As a kid, I liked that she was feminine and joyful, that she was known to dance while playing the castanets.

As an adult, my relationship with Teresa changed and deepened. I became more inspired by her recognition of her own sinfulness and the need for continual conversion. The idea that God is calling each of us to holiness and that for each of us that will look like becoming more fully ourselves. Also, Teresa’s life bears witness to the fact that we can experience some measure of God’s love in prayer.

Your online project, The Catholic Catalogue, is described as “a field guide to the daily acts that make up a Catholic life.” Can you tell us more about it—i.e. its scope, its future, and what makes it an important contribution to the current conversation?

Sure. The Catholic Catalogue: A Field Guide to the Daily Acts That Make Up A Catholic Life, will be released by Image Press in 2016. It’s an illustrated field guide, designed to help the reader identify and celebrate both the seasons of life—from birth to death, baptism to funeral—and the seasons of the Church year.

When I was growing up my parents brought the feasts and fasts of the liturgical year into our home. It was strange and lovely to grow up in a home in which the passage of time was imbued with such meaning and significance. It wasn’t just one thing after another. Life was a journey, onward to meet Jesus. We were, as St. John Paul II said, “Wayfarers, pilgrims of the Absolute.”

I went to public school for K–12, so I knew other kids weren’t being forced to pray around the Advent wreath or fast on Good Friday, but when I went to college, I discovered that other Catholics hadn’t grown up with some of these traditions either. I didn’t know many students at Notre Dame who had chanted night prayer, or visited monasteries, or protested nuclear weapons with Catholic Workers, or kept St. Lucy’s day with breakfast in bed.

And yet, despite the absence of tradition in their lives, the people around me had a deep longing for spirituality and tradition—especially as friends began to start families, in their thirties. It wasn’t uncommon to see someone on Facebook ask, “We’re looking to start some family traditions. Any ideas?” Most people, who were nominally Catholic or seeking, had no idea where to begin. The traditions of their Polish, Vietnamese, German or Irish great-grandparents had been lost. That question: “How do I begin?” was the germ of the idea for The Catalogue, both the website and the book.

Because of the way I was brought up, my experience of being Catholic has always meant living a life. Being Catholic was and is more than just a serious of intellectual assents or political talking points. The practice preceded the theology (and the politics).

But it’s clear that many of the ancient customs of the Church—eating together, going on pilgrimage, keeping watch with the sick, attending births and deaths and keeping days and seasons—have been overshadowed by the demands of contemporary life. We’ve lost some of the richness of what it means to live a Catholic life. There are literally thousands of practices that can help us transform our hearts and give us some measure of wonder and peace.

I’ve spent the last couple of years learning about these practices for the book and I feel more connected to my faith as a result of incorporating many of them into my life.

Why do we make Confessions? What is a Byzantine Fast? How do I pray with icons? How does someone discover a vocation? What’s the deal with abbey ale or Catholic tattoos or consecrated virgins? In trying to answer these questions, and others, for the website and the book, I’ve also been answering them for myself. The goal of The Catholic Catalogue, both the website and the book project, was to help people make room in their busy lives for mystery and awe, meaning and joy, whether they’re encountering Catholic spirituality and culture for the first time or have been steeped in it.

I’ve been fortunate to work with other Catholic women on the project. My co-author, Melissa Musick, is a columnist for National Catholic Reporter, and our illustrator, Chau Nguyen, is a friend who also graduated from Notre Dame in 2006. So it’s been a collaborative process. We’ve also been very fortunate to work with our editor, Gary Jansen, on the manuscript. And our readers online (we have about 60,000 followers on Facebook) have been wonderful, offering support, asking questions, sharing posts, even giving interviews about their experiences with some of these faith traditions, many of which will be included in the book. It seems like there’s a hunger for something positive that moves beyond left/right categories.

I think The Catalogue is an important contribution to the ongoing conversation, because it emphasizes diverse practices and the ”way” of faith, and de-emphasizes the divisions, which often receive too much attention, especially online.

“Let Our Mouth Be Filled with Your Praise”

Rob De La Noval

2nd Year Doctoral Candidate, History of Christianity

University of Notre Dame

In its whirlwind of genuflections, full-body crossings, language-shifts, censing of icons, and seemingly endless congregational chanting, it’s not difficult to recognize a Byzantine rite liturgy when you stumble upon it. For years this liturgy has been available to believers in the areas surrounding Notre Dame (either at St. Andrews Greek Orthodox Church in South Bend or at Mishawaka’s St. Michael’s Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church), but this past Sunday marked the second celebration of such a liturgy on Notre Dame’s own campus. Students, faculty, friends of the theological community in South Bend crammed into Malloy Hall for a service of what can only be called a “holy disorientation,”—or, perhaps better, a holy orientation, for this celebration of Melkite Greek Catholic worship transformed the normally sparse “Seat of Wisdom” chapel into an icon of the more densely outfitted Eastern churches where the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is typically performed.

static1.squarespaceThe worship space, cramped though it was due to full attendance (standing room only), appeared nonetheless spacious in the way an empty room can suddenly encompass multitudes once it has been thoughtfully furnished. Indeed, the chapel seemed to emanate from the altar outwards in concentric circles: two wooden portable iconostases, bearing images of Christ and of the Theotokos, framed the altar; gorgeously vested altar servers flanked Fr. Khaled Anatolios, newly appointed Professor of History of Christianity at ND and recently ordained Melkite priest, and Fr. Michael Magree, a Latin rite priest who served as deacon in the service; and the wood of the room itself, lining the ceiling and boarding its floors, received the gold of the icons, priests, and servers with a warm familiarity that redounded upon the worshipers embraced by the Seat of Wisdom.

These ‘circles of worship’ also manifested themselves in the circuitous nature of the liturgy itself. If the Roman Rite is known for the straightforward solemnity of its progression to the Eucharistic feast, the Byzantine rite reaches the same climax as its Western counterpart only after various cycles of prayers which cumulatively create sacred meaning for the worshipers and instruct them in the mystery of Christ the Church receives in her liturgy.

Before the Divine Liturgy even properly begins, the congregation has already been led by the cantor through various doxologies and hymns to Christ, culminating in the priest’s opening prayer culled from Psalm 51:

“O Lord, You Shall open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.”

This prayer receives its conclusive echo at the end of the liturgy, immediately after the faithful have received the holy Body and Blood of the Lord, when the congregation sings,

“Let our mouth be filled with Your praise, O Lord, for You have counted us worthy to share Your holy, immortal and spotless Mysteries.”

The celebrant’s opening prayer is finally answered when the mouths of the celebrant and all the faithful are filled with the flesh and blood of the Son, the eternal Praise of the Father.

So the Byzantine rite, in these reverend reverberations, teaches us as we sing that we must not only verbally praise the Lord, but we must become the Lord if He is to be rightly praised. This is why, when the priest elevates the elements and cries, “Holy things for the Holy!,” the people respond, “One is holy, One is Lord, Jesus Christ to the Glory of God the Father.” Lest we approach the sacrament presumptively, we are warned that holy things are only for the holy; lest we not approach due to ungodly fear, we are reminded (in words evoking Jesus’ own in the Gospels) that “only One is holy”, the Lord Christ, and that He intends to make us holy by joining us to Himself in the sacrament.

The litanies recurring throughout the liturgy represent another significant series of cycles peculiar to the Byzantine rite. The congregation’s first act in the liturgy is to pray the “Litany of Peace.” In these prayers we supplicate the Lord for His Church and for His world, using that most ancient Christian prayer, “Lord, have mercy.” Following the homily the people embark on a second litany, the “Ecumenic Litany,” in which we pray once again for the Lord’s mercy on the Church, world, and—after a brief interlude—for the gifts offered for consecration. In the third litany, right before Communion, the people pray again (“Lord, have mercy”), but this time, puzzlingly, for the gifts which have already been sanctified.

In this prayer over the sanctified elements we find that the litanies have assumed a new character, one not focused solely on the needs of sinners. We pray the Lord’s mercy even over the good He has done for us by making the gifts we bring Him into the very Body of the Lord. This subtle transformation of prayer for mercy finds its climax in the post-Communion thanksgiving, in which the priest asks us:

“Now that we have received the divine, holy, spotless, immortal, heavenly, life-giving, awesome mysteries of Christ, let us give worthy thanks to the Lord.”

We respond, once again, with “Lord, have mercy.” In the course of this divine liturgy, prayer and supplication become praise and thanksgiving. This is what is means to thank the Lord: to invoke Him without end. And this should not surprise us: after all, the Lord whom we invoke is the One named again and again throughout the liturgy “the lover of mankind.”

What is more, this dual act of petition and praise becomes the model of our life beyond the liturgy, for immediately after the priest us calls us to “go forth in peace,” he unexpectedly continues the liturgy by calling, “Let us pray to the Lord,” to which we reply, once again, “Lord have mercy.” This twice repeated call for prayer extends the dismissal, inviting us to consider that the liturgy’s effect on us is preparation for a life of ceaseless invocation of the Lord’s mercy—which invocation is, in fact, nothing other than His praise.

jp-2-with-orthodox-clergyStanding at worship last Sunday in the Seat of Wisdom, I regularly took in during our corporate prayer the oceans of Byzantine gold, but at times another vision demanded my attention. I speak of the giant Latin crucifix of Christ jutting out of the chapel’s south wall. The charred, suffering Jesus there looked down at his crucified Byzantine counterpart depicted on the small cross set on the altar. Throughout the liturgy, the celebrant, his back to the people, would face the altar, lift his hands, and turn his eyes upwards to heaven and, inescapably, also to the crucifix hanging there before him.

Two images of Jesus met there: East and West. With the addition of this Eastern Catholic liturgy to Notre Dame’s campus, we can now add to this another union, one beloved of Pope John Paul II: two lungs.

Christian Hope and the Holy Souls

Laura TaylorLaura Taylor 

House of Brigid

Wexford, Ireland

“Ego sum lux mundi,” read the ancient words of Christ engraved in the weathered, grey stone above the high altar of St. Colman’s church in the quiet country parish of Ballindaggin, County Wexford, Ireland. “I am the light of the world.”

St. Colman's Church, BallindagginI was there to pay my respects for a deceased relative of a nun with whom I had become quite close over the last year. Following traditional Irish funeral observances, it seemed like the inhabitants of the entire village had packed the church for the customary removal service. These traditional Catholic prayers recited at the church in the evenings before funerals are about as ingrained in the Irish consciousness as their love for piping hot tea, spuds, the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association), and commiserating about the weather. We were there to pray fervently for the commendation of this dearly departed soul to heaven, that she would in turn pray unceasingly for us from there with the eternal communion of saints, in the company of Christ and our Blessed Mother.Removal Pic 2

No instructions were given at any point in the ceremony about when to sit, kneel, or stand; the people around me just knew.

The parish priest sprinkled holy water over the casket, and the moment the prayers were finished, everyone leapt from their seats in a rush to shake the hands of the grieving family members, while the many conversations among the mourners elevated the noise level in the church to a dull roar. Our religious duties accomplished, we spilled out of the mid-19th century church–the men headed straight to the village pub, the women congregated outside for the latest gossip, and I strolled pensively around the small cemetery nestled against the church walls, waiting for my companions to emerge so we could make the hour’s journey home.

As we remember the souls of the faithful departed in this month of November, I find myself increasingly struck by the visceral manner in which the Irish honor, mourn, and think about the dead. Carlingford ChurchFamilies and local communities band together immediately following the death of a loved one: they fill normally-empty church pews to the brim in order to somberly commemorate “anniversary Masses,” and to pray en masse for the deceased at removal services, wakes, and funerals. Conversations about death in Ireland are quite open–almost bruisingly candid–and happen over a cup of tea, in the street, or out at the pub. The famed Irish wakes still happen–albeit less often now, due to the rising popularity of funeral homes–and are completely unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The open casket lies in state in the family’s living room, mourners sit in chairs around the body and take turns swapping humorous or emotional stories about the deceased, and a seemingly endless supply of scalding hot tea and coffee, and freshly-baked cakes and scones in the adjoining rooms provides much-needed spiritual and bodily nourishment, and still more cathartic conversation.irish_wake_paintingThere is a freshness in the Irish perspective towards death and dying, however unsettling it may be to a young American in her mid-twenties, who, before moving to Ireland, had attended only a couple funerals–all with closed caskets, all conducted as swiftly and discreetly as possible, the reality of death too uncomfortable for the American psyche. In Ireland, though, I see the true embodiment of Christian hope lived out each day; even in the throes of sorrow and grief, death here is no frightening spectre, but an almost-friend–a constant, quiet companion on life’s journey.

Here, mourning is a public act, and the healing process truly is communal. Churches see their numbers swell dramatically in the month of November in Ireland, as the annual remembrance of the dead draws people from all walks of life–the old, the young, the rich and poor, Travellers and settled, the faithful, and, surprisingly, those who have drifted away from the Church. They are all connected in their grief, and their desire to remember the ones they have lost. The liturgies of this month in particular somehow seem to tap into the deepest recesses of the heart, compelling all of us to congregate, remember, and pray for our loved ones, that they might, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.vigil at maynoothPope Francis’ namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, tenderly refers to death as a sister: “Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no one living can escape.” There is an inexplicable comfort in this Month of the Holy Souls here in Ireland, for alongside the heartache of loss accompanies a lingering sense of peace, and hope.  

Setting the Table for All

GraceGrace Mariette Agolia

Undergraduate Fellow

Contact Author

I love sharing meals with other people, especially around the dinner table with my family.  In this sense, family, while including the biological, extends beyond that to a spiritual communion of persons, who express vulnerability by welcoming each other to the table, preparing a place for each person, serving each person, and embracing each other as he or she is in God.  You behold the body before you, you receive it, and you give of yourself in return.  It is both a physical and spiritual act.  I learned this experience of family in a special way during my time this past summer at a L’Arche home.

L’Arche is an international organization founded by Jean Vanier through which people with and without intellectual disabilities share life in community, build mutually transforming relationships, celebrate the dignity of each human person, and make known each other’s gifts by working together to build a better world. [1]

At tvince4he beginning and end of each dinner meal at L’Arche, we pray together.  We thank God for the gifts of family, friends, and food before we eat, and afterwards, we light a candle and pass it around to each person at the table as they express gratitude for certain experiences of the day and name their prayer intentions.  We conclude by joining hands to say the “Our Father.”  In gathering together around the table, we share our joys and sorrows, and we acknowledge each other’s dignity as persons created in the image of God.  The meal is not only about the food shared but also about the humanity shared with each other in kinship, where those at the margins are brought to the center.

Especially in a world where many are afraid to confront Lazarus begging for scraps at the table of plenty, this understanding of family where all, especially those on the margins of society, are welcomed at the table is essential for us to encounter God in human relationships.  We are to come to the feast of heaven and earth exactly as we are in God, and we are to embrace the dignity of all persons at the table, regardless of condition or ability.  For people with disabilities, this can be difficult because much of the non-acceptance that they face in society happens because others are not willing to incur a cost to themselves in trying to go beyond their fear in an attempt to understand.  Much of the disabling part is actually a social construction – the terrible feeling of isolation that results when other people, who do not understand because they are afraid, treat people with disabilities in a different way that can be demeaning.

Persons with disabilities are human beings.  Their experience of disability is a very particular type of challenge that they face in their daily lives.  It informs their experience as human beings, but it no way defines who they are.  Like every other human being, they seek love, they seek acceptance, they seek friendship, they seek communion.  Like all people, they must be offered a place at the table, where the human heart is called to relationship, to “a communion of hearts, which is the to-and-fro of love.” [2]

According to theologian Henri Nouwen:

[H]aving a meal is more than eating and drinking [to stay alive]. It is celebrating the gifts of life we share. A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events. Around the table we become vulnerable, filling one another’s plates and cups and encouraging one another to eat and drink. Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst. Around the table we become family, friends, community, yes, a body. That is why it is so important to ‘set’ the table. Flowers, candles, colorful napkins all help us to say to one another, “This is a very special time for us, let’s enjoy it!”  [3]

At L’Arche, we take great care in preparing and setting the table for each meal, ensuring that we have the right lastsuppernumber of places for all the people coming to dinner and that we can accommodate specific dietary needs.  Likewise, at Mass, it is so important to set a place for each person at the table, to invite them, to welcome them because that is true meaning of community.  We are to enjoy the beautiful presence of each other, of God coming into our midst.

This is part of the reason why I enjoyed attending Mass with the L’Arche core members.  They sat right in front at church, participating as fully and joyfully as they could using their gifts, and the whole parish community was so accepting of them as persons, which is a recognition that goes beyond merely accommodating a physical disability.  The accommodation needs to become a spiritual one for both persons in the relationship in order to bring them together, not just as one simply helping the other but as both mutually benefiting and being transformed by the interaction.

As Hauerwas and Vanier wrote,

“The Word became flesh to bring people together, to break down the walls of fear and hatred that separate people.  That’s the vision of the incarnation – to bring people together.  In his prayer for unity Jesus prayed that we might all become one.  We have this incredible vision of peacemaking, two thousand years in the making.” [4]

We are called to break down barriers of misunderstanding that separate us by giving and receiving the kiss of peace each day, and especially so during a family meal by taking, blessing, breaking, and sharing the bread that sustains all.

Sometimes, we have experiences of disruptive meals because of hostility and unreconciled differences among persons.  Those meals often go unfinished, with one person leaving in anger, the food wasted, the other sinking at the table, either no longer hungry, or eating in a futile attempt to fill the emotional emptiness.  Or there is an awkward silence as we cover ourselves by focusing on our food, anxious to get the meal over with so that we can escape the embarrassing situation.  There is no giving or receiving; only fear, and the walls go up.  We are left alone in isolation, in a division that threatens community.  This happens all too often in family life.  Some of us grow up not being able to be vulnerable, and it affects our relationships with other people.

When we are unable to accept the limitations of others, it is often because we are unable to accept our own.  For many of us, it is difficult “to accept our limits and our handicaps as well as our gifts and capacities.  We feel that if others see us as we really are they might reject us.  So we cover our weaknesses.” [5] Each of us has a strong desire to be valued and regarded as a person of worth, and when we discover those things which inhibit us from aspiring to our full potential or those things that are looked down upon by others, we want to hide them so that we may be accepted.  It is hard to expose our true selves because we run the risk of being rejected and hurt.  To give of oneself freely and to be accepting of another comes at a cost, but the rewards reaped can be great when love is returned.

When we accept each other as we are with all our weaknesses and strengths, and continuously come together to partake of the same meal, we grow together on our journey to God. When one gives to another, he or she allows the gift to be received, creating areas of inner spiritual growth.

For Jean Vanier, accompaniment is very much a part of life at L’Arche, but it is ultimately at the heart of all human growth. [6] We are to assume dispositions of humility and mercy for each other, so that we may walk together on this journey, encouraging the other to grow in loving relationship.  This mutual trust and belonging in communion is the “to-and-fro” movement of love between two people where each one gives and each one receives.  Communion is not a stagnant reality; it is continuously growing and deepening but “can turn sour if one person tries to possess the other, thus preventing growth.” [7] Both are enabled in freedom because they are allowed to be themselves.  As we partake of the meal together, we accompany each other in our spiritual journeys to union with God, which involves forgiveness and growth in understanding of each other.

In acknowledging and accepting each other’s vulnerability, we participate in this “to-and-fro of love,” a communion of hearts, where vulnerability and tenderness abounds.  By sharing the same meal and being incorporated into Christ’s loving act of self-gift, we are called to do the same in our lives when we are sent forth into the world after Mass.  We become a living body, unified in love through vulnerability in relationships.

By emphasizing relationships as brothers and sisters in Christ, L’Arche identifies itself as not just a service provider but also as a Christian community.  It is not just assistants caring for persons with disabilities; it is persons with disabilities caring for assistants as well.  The relationship is mutually beneficial and transforming, where both are called to vulnerability and to an ever-deeper love.  This is the nature of self-giving love that is intrinsic to family life.  There must be a selfless desire to give, and a humility to receive, both of which require vulnerability.  The love of husband and wife, the love of mother and father for their children, the love of siblings, the love of children for their parents, especially as they grow older and in turn, now need their children’s care.  We are formed in this love at Mass, at the Eucharistic table, and leaving, our lives become “Eucharistized,” as we share meals at our own family tables in our homes, welcoming all and preparing a place for all, especially those on the margins.

Gratitude is a fruit of this vulnerability of persons gathered together around the table.  Just as one core member at L’Arche expressed that his vision of heaven would be like the “First Thanksgiving,” pointing to a depiction of the Last Supper on the wall above the dining room table, we are called to enact each meal as a sacrifice of thanksgiving, honoring God and those human beings around us with sacred dignity.  We are called to give of ourselves in relationships of humble service and gratitude, as an offering of self-gift modeled on that of Jesus’ own gift on the cross.  Our hospitality to each other is a genuine example of how we should emulate Christ’s vulnerability in our lives.  In coming to the table, we do run the risk of allowing ourselves to be changed.  But unless we are transformed in love, how will we ever be able to kiss the crosses of others?  Our hearts become both the table and the altar where we encounter others and experience the person of Christ, who implores us to do this in his memory.

______

Notes:

[1] I participated in the Summer Service Learning Program offered through the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns.  The theme of this year’s immersion experience was “Kinship at the Margins.”

[2] Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, p. 63

[3] Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved

[4] Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier, Living Gently in a Violent World:  The Prophetic Witness of Weakness

[5] Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, p. 100

[6] Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, p. 130

[7] Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, p. 28