Category Archives: Culture

Celebrity Passings and the Memento Mori

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Bowie himself sang in “Changes”:

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

Or, as the book of Ecclesiastes reminds us:

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

Musical Mystagogy: The Presentation of Jesus

As we celebrate the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple today, we contemplate the revelation of “the light [that] shines in the darkness” (Jn 1:5)—the “light revealed to the nations” (Lk 2:32) that “the darkness will not overcome” (Jn 1:5).

In the world today, evidence of the darkness is not difficult to find; it can be much more difficult to discern those places where the light still gleams. Yet, as Christians, we cling in faith to the truth that Jesus Christ is the true light—the light that has come into the world; the light that conquered the darkness of death precisely by entering into it and emerged victorious in a blaze of resurrected glory; the light that remains with us today through the gift of the Holy Spirit poured forth in the Church; the light that we who bear his name are called to share.

In today’s Gospel, we hear the aged Simeon proclaim his canticle of thanksgiving, prayed each and every night at the end of Compline. Simeon, too, lived in times that seemed to be overcome with darkness, and yet he never lost hope that the Messiah was coming. In the midst of darkness, he continually sought and awaited the light, and rejoiced when at last he held that light in his arms.

Arvo Pärt’s 2001 setting of the Canticle of Simeon—the Nunc Dimittis—captures this interplay between darkness and light in the kaleidoscopic change of colors, and it captures something of the patient waiting, the yearning for the light, and ultimately, the light’s triumph over darkness, even as it somehow acknowledges that the darkness is still very much present. It is fitting that, throughout the world, candles will be blessed today that will be used in liturgical celebration throughout the coming year (hence the occasional reference to this feast as Candlemas). May we who received the light of Christ at our Baptism continue to keep that flame burning brightly, setting it on a lampstand so that it might illuminate the darkness around us and draw all people to Christ, the light of the world.

 

 

Musical Mystagogy: Conversion of St. Paul

Carolyn Pirtle
Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Today we celebrate an unusual feast: the conversion of St. Paul. There are countless stories of other holy men and women who experienced profound conversion: St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Mary of Egypt, St. Francis of Assisi, and in our own day Blessed Oscar Romero and Servant of God Dorothy Day. Indeed, one does not become a saint without experiencing not simply a momentary conversion but a lifetime of conversion, a continual turning away from sin and turning toward Christ. And yet St. Paul’s is the only conversion that appears on the liturgical calendar. Why? Because when Paul left Saul behind—the one who had made it his life’s mission to wipe out Christian communities—the entire trajectory of Christianity changed. After his conversion, Paul became the Apostle to the Gentiles, traveling and teaching and dying for the sake of spreading the faith to all peoples in all corners of the world, and in his epistles, he continues to draw souls to Christ even to this day.

Conversion on the Way to Damascus (Caravaggio, c.1600–1601)
Conversion on the Way to Damascus (Caravaggio, c.1600–1601)

In the first reading for today’s feast, we hear Paul himself relate the story of his encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, a scene that has been famously depicted by many artists (twice by Caravaggio alone). In many cases, these paintings focus on the moment in which Saul falls to the ground as the catalytic moment of his conversion. This moment was indeed the beginning: Saul sees a blinding light, falls to the ground, and hears a voice he does not know asking him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 22:7; see also Acts 9:3ff). Yet, this moment was only the beginning. Saul did not rise from the ground as the fully-fledged Apostle to the Gentiles he would become. On the contrary, he was rendered blind and helpless by his encounter with the light of Christ, and it was only with the assistance of his companions that he was able to reach Damascus at all. Then, it was only with the help of Ananias that he regained his sight, discovered the truths of Christianity, and was initiated into the community through Baptism. In other words, Paul’s conversion that we celebrate today was not a just singular moment that could be captured in a painting or a snapshot; rather, beginning from that singular moment, his conversion encompassed a lifetime of turning away from his old ways in order to follow the way of Christ, the way of the Cross.

Felix Mendelssohn, 1809–1847
Felix Mendelssohn, 1809–1847

Felix Mendelssohn’s musical depiction of St. Paul’s conversion in his oratorio Paulus, op. 36 helps to capture this ongoing sense of conversion in a way that perhaps a painting cannot. Musical performance by its nature involves a journey through time, and as such, it can serve as a powerful metaphor for one’s journey through life. The story of St. Paul’s conversion unfolds over several movements in this oratorio, beginning in the fourteenth movement. This movement consists of two parts: in the first part, Acts 9:3–6 is proclaimed in a recitative (sung speech) by a tenor narrator, a baritone (Paul), and a three-part treble chorus (the voice of Jesus). The jagged tenor melody soars at the moment the narrator describes the blinding light. The strings create tension-filled harmonies through a technique called tremolo (literally meaning “trembling”). The hesitant baritone melody conveys the fear that must have overcome Saul. All of these elements work together to create an incredibly dramatic moment, translated from the German below:

And as he journeyed, he came near unto Damascus
when suddenly there shone around him a light from Heaven: and he fell to the Earth;
and he heard a voice saying unto him:

Saul! Saul! Why persecutest thou me?
And he said: Lord! who art thou?
and the Lord said to him:
I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutes.

And he said, trembling and astonish’d:
Lord, what wilt thou have me do?

The Lord said to him: Arise and go into the city,
and there thou shalt be told what thou must do.

What is perhaps most striking about this section is the way in which Mendelssohn chose to set the words of Jesus by using a three-part treble chorus, a marked departure from the model set forth by the Passion oratorios of Johann Sebastian Bach (who greatly influenced Mendelssohn), where the words of Jesus were sung by a bass soloist. The effect is stunning: the drama described above melts away as Jesus speaks; the tension is dissolved and the voice of the risen Christ is heard as something utterly luminous, radiant. Whereas in Caravaggio’s paintings we see the light enveloping Saul through the beauty of chiaroscuro, in Mendelssohn’s setting of Jesus’ words, we hear this light pierce through the darkness, and its radiance penetrates the listener’s heart just as it must have penetrated Saul’s. When we hear or read Jesus’ words proclaimed in Scripture, we might interpret his question to Saul as accusatory, as judgmental; but here, these words are set in such a way that we hear Jesus genuinely questioning this lost son of his. This is the Man of Sorrows speaking, the Good Shepherd himself reaching out to a lost sheep so that he might be brought into the fold. In setting the words of Jesus this simple, vulnerable way, Mendelssohn makes a profound theological statement, calling to mind to the self-emptying love of Christ wherein power is made perfect in weakness. In a way, the unexpected vulnerability of this music hearkens back to the Incarnation itself, when the eternal Word stripped himself of glory to be born of the Virgin, as well as the Passion and Death of Jesus, when the Word made flesh emptied himself all the more for our sakes by enduring a horrific and humiliating death in order to redeem the world from sin.

It is this gentle, merciful beauty that attracts, that draws Saul in, that illuminates his heart even as his eyes are blinded; it is the beauty of his encounter with Christ that provides the catalyst to Saul’s conversion. Yet neither Saul’s story nor Mendelssohn’s oratorio ends with this moment of conversion; Saul must arise and follow the command of Jesus by proceeding into Damascus to find Ananias. Saul must become Paul. And to do this, he needs the love of Christ shown forth in the merciful witness of those around him.

It is at this point that Mendelssohn’s music itself turns, transitioning into a triumphant choral response to the narrative that has just unfolded. Throughout the oratorio, the chorus is designated in the score as Stimme der Christenheit, or the Voice of Christendom, and so it gives voice to the Christian community, encouraging Paul on the road toward Christ. The text Mendelssohn set for this movement (Is 60:1–2) also makes a theological statement by providing a beautiful complement to what has preceded it:

Arise, shine! For thy light is come,
and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.

For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and gross darkness [thick clouds] the people.

But shall arise upon thee, the Lord,
and his glory shall be seen upon thee.

This is the moment of Paul’s illumination; he has been visited by the very light of Christ, the glory of the Lord has shone upon him, and the Christian community is now exhorting him to arise (as we hear in the glorious ascending melodies) and follow that light (as we hear in the intricate imitation and echoes) so that God’s glory might be seen not only upon him, but through him as well. And for us listening, this music can provide a moment of illumination as well. Just as the Scriptures are never read as a simple story but are proclaimed so that they may take root in our hearts, so too is this music a moment meant to serve as a proclamation, reminding us that we are on our own road to Christ, that we must allow his light to heal our spiritual blindness and be converted ourselves. This music serves as a reminder that, in our Christian journey, we are both Paul and the chorus: called to lifelong conversion and called to encourage others along their path of discipleship.

As we listen to the voice of Christ and the voice of our fellow Christians represented in the chorus, may we pray for the grace of continual conversion for ourselves, and for the conversion of those who continue to persecute Christ in the members of His Body throughout the world. May we hear in this music the radiance of Christ’s light and allow it to permeate our hearts all the more deeply, so that we, like St. Paul, might continue on our journey toward Christ.

St. Paul, pray for us.

And the Nominees Are . . .

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle, M.M., M.S.M.
Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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This morning in Hollywood, the nominations for the 2016 Academy Awards were announced. If you’re a film-lover like me, this time of year is the post-season, where the hundreds of films released over the past year have been culled to a short list of the elite, and soon, there will be only one—the Best Picture of the Year. The problem with the post-season comparison, of course, is that athletes only compete within their sport, whereas films of completely different genres are all lumped together and pitted against one another for Best Picture. This is essentially like comparing apples to Ferraris. Their only commonalities are: they are both things, and they are both red. And the latter isn’t even true all of the time.

As a result of the apples and Ferraris conundrum, the Academy increased the number of possible Best Picture nominees from five to ten for the 2010 awards ceremony in order to allow a wider variety of films to be represented. As it turns out, 2010 and 2011 have been the only years that all ten nominations spots have been filled; 2012–2014 each saw nine films nominated, and, as in 2015, this year there are only eight. While I initially bristled at the increase in nominated films, this year I am once again surprised at the fact that the Academy didn’t just go ahead and fill all ten slots (Dear Academy: Could we nominate just one comedy some year? Maybe?? Please???).

In which J.Law seems to have forgotten that she won the previous year. . . Everybody wants Oscar.
In which J.Law seems to have forgotten that she won the previous year. . . Everybody wants Oscar.

Then I remembered that the Oscar nominations represent the culmination of often politically charged marketing campaigns spearheaded by studios intent upon garnering awards (like a sports team shelling out big bucks for a key player in order to win championships), and this reality means that good films—even excellent films—are sometimes reduced to collateral damage.

Despite these and other flaws inherent in the system (including once again a complete lack of diversity in the acting nominees), I still love the Oscars because they provide people a way in to discovering, thinking about, and talking about movies, and movies in turn provide people a way in to discovering, thinking about, and talking about those things that are part and parcel of human life: identity and the search for it, relationships and all their glorious and heartbreaking complexities, the presence of evil and the struggle for good. And when films tell these human narratives in an authentic and compelling way, I would argue that they have the capacity to open audiences up to encountering a deeper narrative, indeed, the narrative—the narrative that insists that humanity has its source and its summit in something other than itself; the narrative that reassures us that death and evil will ultimately falter and life and love will triumph; the narrative that points, in the end, to God.

Granted, this capacity varies from film to film. Some films, like last year’s Best Picture winner Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), open viewers up to this deeper narrative by offering a cautionary tale, encouraging us to rethink and perhaps change the ways we live and interact with family, loved ones, strangers, even ourselves. But others, like Best Picture winners A Man for All Seasons, Ghandi, Schindler’s List, Forrest Gump, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, and 12 Years a Slave, have the capacity to inspire us to be better human beings by presenting us with a picture of humanity’s own capacity to transcend itself precisely through entry into that deeper narrative. All good art does this for those who take the time to look closely and listen carefully.

And so, over the next several weeks, we here at Oblation will once again be taking a closer look at this year’s Best Picture nominees in the hopes of discovering within their individual narratives seeds of the narrative. As we’ve learned over the past couple of years, this task will be more difficult for some films than others, but this series will afford us the opportunity to engage with “popular culture” and “secular media” in ways that are intriguing and challenging for us and, hopefully, uplifting and life-giving for you (or at the very least, entertaining). As Siskel and Ebert used to say, “See you at the movies.”

Musical Mystagogy: Singing the Incarnation

Carolyn Pirtle

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Every year, I lament the fact that there simply aren’t enough days in the Christmas season to listen to all of the incredible music that helps us enter the exultant hymn of the angels announcing the birth of Jesus. Let’s face it: there’s a reason we secretly start listening to Christmas music around the middle of Advent (or that we at least really want to). Christmas music is sacred music par excellence. Whether it’s a traditional carol like Hark! The Herald Angels Sing or Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming, or a chant like Of the Father’s Love Begotten, or a more recent addition to the repertoire like Morten Lauridsen’s anthem O Magnum Mysterium, or Alfred Burt’s carol Jesu Parvule, the songs of Christmas make real the idea of “beauty ever ancient, ever new,” a phrase that comes from St. Augustine’s Confessions as he addresses God himself. Some may balk at this analogy between the earthly beauty of music and the divine beauty, but I maintain that one can indeed use Augustine’s description with reference to Christmas music, because its material beauty points beyond itself to the divine beauty present in the very mystery this music helps us celebrate.

On the one hand, Christmas music does seem ancient: we know it intimately. It has accompanied us to the manger each and every year. And yet, on the other hand, it is indeed ever new: we never seem to grow tired of it. The reason for this, I believe, is that every year, we approach this season and this music different people than we were at this time last year, and as a result, though the music remains the same, we will hear it differently. This is the gift of a set repertoire of carols and hymns and chants, and the gift of the new additions to the repertoire that have slowly and steadily found a home within this treasury over time. The music of Christmas allows us to return to it year after year after year, and, like a wellspring, it continually slakes our thirst for beauty and mystery and meaning.

So, with the vast breadth of music, how does one choose a single piece to encapsulate the Christmas season? With the understanding that there is not ever going to be one piece that does so, but with the hope that, at least for this year, this one will help unfold the mystery a little more fully. With that, I offer Egil Hovland’s The Glory of the Father. I came across this piece as an undergraduate member of the St. Isidore Catholic Student Center Choir at my alma mater, Kansas State University, and I have come back to it every Christmas since then. This piece, written in 1957 by Norwegian composer Egil Hovland, uses as its text excerpts from the stunning prologue of St. John’s Gospel. This passage is proclaimed on Christmas at the Mass during the day, which perhaps seems an unusual choice. There is no mention of a journey to Bethlehem or a manger, no angels singing or shepherds dropping in. Instead, what we have is light. The light of the human race. The light that shines in darkness. The light that no darkness can overcome. The true light which enlightens everyone. The true light that was coming into the world. And what is this light? St. John tells us.

The Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth.

This text serves as the beginning and end of Hovland’s stunning yet simple piece. In constructing the piece this way, Hovland is holding up the Incarnation—Jesus Christ Himself—as the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. The music in these sections is open—hollow sounding and yet somehow also full. The first words of the piece—“The Word became flesh”—are sung with a chant-like rhythm using the interval of a perfect fifth, one of the two intervals used in the medieval period to create the first instances of harmony. The other interval was the perfect fourth, and Hovland ends the phrase “dwelt among us” on this sonority (the italics designate the syllables on which this interval occurs). Why mention this? To demonstrate that the openness of the piece comes from a compositional technique that signaled the birth of harmony as we now know it. A beauty ever ancient. On the other hand, the composer uses close harmonies and controlled dissonance (clashing notes) to create a sense of fullness, particularly when the choir sings “We beheld the glory of the Father” the second time. A beauty ever new.

At the heart of the piece, Hovland returns to the beginning of the prologue: “In the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God.” The piece takes on more life and movement here, indicating the life and movement of the eternal Word, the second Person of the triune God. With the text “In him was life,” a stirring drama builds, and suddenly, a tension is introduced with the phrase “and the life was the light of men.” The startling chord on the word “men” indicates a new presence: darkness. Through the sin of humanity, darkness enters the world and threatens to blot out the life of the Word, “the light of men.” This darkness continues as the composer holds up for our attention a reality that we would rather forget as we celebrate Christmas: “He came to his own, and his own received him not.” This child, the Word made flesh, the true light which enlightens everyone, was rejected by those whom he called his own. Is still rejected.

And yet, immediately after this sobering, convicting statement, the composer returns to the opening section, indicating that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5). Moreover, the abrupt shift from the darkness back to the light indicates that the glory of the Incarnate Word—“the glory as of the Father’s only Son”—is not contingent upon our acceptance of Him. The light has come into the world. It is offered as gift for those with the eyes to see it, and “to those who did accept him”—who accept him still today—“he gave power to become children of God” (Jn 1:12). This season, as we sing the mysteries of the Incarnation, may we open our eyes to see and our hearts to welcome the light of the world, the Word made flesh, the glory of the Father.

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 Unrealistic Expectations

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Musical Mystagogy: The Requiem Mass

Carolyn Pirtle

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

Throughout the month of November, the Church has invited us to remember in a special way the souls of the faithful departed, so a few weeks ago I shared a piece by Geraint Lewis written for All Souls Day. As we near the end of November, we are also nearing the end of the liturgical year, which means that the readings in the Lectionary cycle are focused on what is often referred to as the “end time,” so it seems an appropriate moment to highlight a musical tradition that for centuries has shaped the way the Church has sung about the final things: the Requiem Mass.

Autograph (original) score of the first movement of Mozart’s Requiem

Musical settings of the Requiem Mass began to emerge during the Renaissance, and even today, composers are still producing works in the Requiem tradition (though most of these are written for the concert hall rather than the liturgy).

Over the centuries, the theological focus of the Requiem Mass has shifted somewhat, particularly with Pope Pius V’s addition of the Dies Irae sequence to the Roman Missal in the late 16th century. The added sequence required new music; thus, throughout the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic eras of the next three centuries, numerous composers set the Dies Irae as part of their Requiem Masses. Because “text painting” was a popular compositional technique during this time (in which composers would create musical pictures of what was happening in the text), settings of the Dies Irae often included dramatic and even terrifying music that highlighted the text’s vivid and often disturbing imagery of the final judgment and the fiery punishment awaiting sinners. And yet, these same composers also drew attention to passages in the sequence expressing heartfelt prayer for the mercy of God on behalf of the deceased and on one’s own behalf by setting those texts with some of the most luminous music that has ever been written. The multi-movement setting of the Dies Irae sequence found in Mozart’s Requiem is a stunning example of music that holds these two facets of the text in fruitful tension—the somber, dark reality of death and judgment is shot through with radiant hope in God’s gracious mercy and tender love.

Medieval illuminated manuscript showing a funeral liturgy
Medieval illuminated manuscript showing a funeral liturgy

The Dies Irae remained part of the funeral liturgy until the Second Vatican Council, when the sequence was removed in order that “funeral rights should express more clearly the paschal character of Christian death” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, §81). In the current Rite of Christian Burial, the images of judgment have given way to reassurances of the merciful love of God and exhortations to hope in the resurrection, and yet, even in the years since the Council, ensembles continue to perform the great Requiems of the past, and composers have continued to set the sequence (see Richard Danielpour’s 2001 An American Requiem), which means that on a certain level, the Requiem in general and the Dies Irae in particular still resonate with people. It seems that, while it is of course a good and holy thing to place our trust in God’s love and mercy and to entrust our beloved dead to that love and mercy, we as human beings must also acknowledge that we will eventually be confronted with the mysterious realities of death and judgment.

The music of the Church can provide us with a way in to this struggle. The settings of the Requiem Mass that have been penned by composers down through the centuries are among the most famous, the most moving (even if this movement is one of disturbance), and the most stunningly beautiful pieces in the repertoire of sacred music. They place the reality of death, the holy fear of judgment, the horror of hell, and the hope of heaven before our eyes and ears, and allow us to contemplate these realities even as we struggle with them. They invite us not only to pray for our departed brothers and sisters, but also to consider the implications of mortality, the consequences of sin, and the need for God’s mercy. In short, the Requiem Mass is an musical momento mori, an aural reminder that we, too, will die, and that we have to give an account of our lives. And yet, the Requiem Mass is also a musical reassurance that Christ has broken the chains of death, and for those who have died with him in the waters of Baptism, death will not have the last word.

Duruflé's autograph score for the Requiem; the Gregorian chant melody is outlined at the bottom
Duruflé’s autograph score for the Requiem; the Gregorian chant melody is outlined at the bottom

While there are numerous settings of the Requiem Mass that are worth listening to on repeat, the one I would especially like to highlight is the setting by French composer Maurice Duruflé (1902–1986). Duruflé completed his Requiem in 1947 and dedicated it to the memory of his father. Musically speaking, what is so striking about Duruflé’s Requiem (as well as  several of his other sacred choral works) is that its melodies are drawn from the ancient Gregorian chants of the Requiem Mass, and yet its harmonic language is crafted from twentieth-century compositional techniques. In other words, this piece utilizes contemporary musical expression and yet is also completely rooted in a centuries-old musical tradition. In this way, it can be seen as a musical form of catechesis: (re)introducing listeners to the beauty of the Gregorian chant melodies while simultaneously appropriating that tradition within an equally and uniquely beautiful contemporary musical idiom.

Like Gabriel Fauré before him, Duruflé sought to highlight the merciful love of God in his Requiem; thus, all but the last two lines of the Dies Irae have been omitted. Yet, the reality of judgment is not altogether absent: it finds a place here in the setting of the ancient Responsory text, Libera me, Domine. The trials of death and judgment are not circumvented or glossed over or skirted around; rather, they are passed through, and as the tumultuous and trembling music of the penultimate Libera me, Domine movement gives way to the utter radiance of the final movement—the In Paradisum—where all is light and peace, the “paschal character of Christian death” pierces through the darkness and gives hope to all who place their trust in God.

Movement VIII: “Libera Me, Domine”

Movement IX: “In Paradisum”

Listen to the full work here.

The Image and “Like”-ness of God: Social Media and Self-Worth

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Maggie Duncan
Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith (2015)
University of Notre Dame, 
Class of 2017

Have you ever been jealous of Kim Kardashian?  I have. Not directly, of course. But when it comes to social media—Instagram, Facebook, Twitter—I do like a good “like.” If anyone knows how to get those, it’s our friend Kim K. I don’t bring this up because I think we can draw heavenly similes from the Kardashians’ tweets. I bring it up because kim k 2in my journey with God, I struggle with a similar vice as Miss Kardashian—the need to brand myself and control how I rank among others.

Social media is a weird beast, and it’s something  for which I’ve never been very good at controlling my desire. Some people can look at a few pictures or comments and be happy, but not me. Facebook became a way for me to check how my life ranked. It became a tool I used to distort and manipulate myself. I used social media as a way to craft an image of myself to try to get people to like me, admire me, or want to be me.

My misuse of social media was not just applied to my own profile. I also used it to judge others. How many likes did they get? Where did they go this weekend? How good is their life? How worthy can they—or rather, we—prove that we are to each other?

I tried to limit social media to heal these patterns a little bit. This past winter, though, I couldn’t tell you how many times I checked, scrolled, liked, and “hearted” per day. That scared me. Where was my heart if this was where I put all my time? Were my thoughts ever on things not relating to my own image or the images of others? Because of this wake up call, I decided to give up social media for Lent.

After I gave up social media, I felt like I was going through a social withdrawal. When I couldn’t be on Facebook or Instagram or the #Twittersphere, I found myself feeling isolated. I couldn’t be affirmed by random virtual entities anymore. I still had my real life friends—but I could no longer spend time crafting my persona.

social mediaDuring Lent, I realized that I wasn’t really living for God or for love, but for likes. I had learned to see myself as worthy only if a certain number of people approved of my image. I ignored the real connections—the “have a good morning” texts or the excited hug from a friend I hadn’t seen in two weeks—for the number of tiny “thumbs ups” I could get on a good profile picture.

As Lent went on, it got easier to be away from it all. In pulling away, though, I saw that my lurking Facebook account was not the only flaw. The whole reason social media is such an issue for me is because of a deep need in my heart to be seen as important.

As Christians and as humans, we are supposed to put our sisters and brothers before ourselves.  My whole sense of self-worth came from how I could do better, be better, be more than others. I found the idea of truly being seen—really seen, live and unedited and sprinkled with imperfections—terrifying, to say the least. I rejected it because my groaning pride and my trembling insecurity would not have it.

When social media, the broken toy that it was, was taken away, I stopped being able to mold myself into a “perfect” person and stopped seeing others as simple categories. I slowly discovered the possibility of seeing us all in an honest light. We weren’t reduced anymore. Rather, we became as detailed and complex as we actually are—we became real humans again. Without this all-consuming project of crafting myself and others, I had some spare time. I used some of that time to pray, to be mindful, to be where I was supposed to be: here, in my real life, not just in the imaginary one where my ego had trapped me.

Letting go of the control I wanted wasn’t easy. A friendly, local priest told me one night when I was struggling that I should say a simple prayer to give up on my willful control, not just in social media but in life: “Dear God, please help me ask You to Help me.”

Dear God, please help me ask You to Help me.

That’s a hard prayer. But it brings a lot of peace.

As I got help from God and from the lovely people in the real world, I slowly started seeing more and more loveliness. I was able to be more grateful. My brain was freed up to love people more instead of insta-judging them. I was able to be myself because I was released from thinking about me and my persona all the time. I was finally not all tied up in the stress of trying to brand myself. I had no social media image to lmichelangelo creationean on during times of insecurity. I could only leap into trust with one fact: I was specifically and intentionally made in God’s image, and that is enough.

But Lent was ending soon. If I told you that Easter came and I stayed off of social media and lived a perfect life, I would be SO lying. Easter did come, and I fell down in the “ashiness” of my own sin, spending four hours on Facebook that day.  (That’s five and two-thirds episodes of Keeping Up with The Kardashians, for those of you wondering.)

Acknowledging this failure, I reflected on what I learned during Lent and what I should do going forward. I now have timers on my computer and blocks on certain websites, but most importantly, I now understand how much easier it is to rest in how God sees me—beautiful, flawed, and good—instead of how I want people to see me.

No lasting peace comes from likes, double taps, followers, or creeping around on the “interwebs.” Not even Kim Kardashian, God bless her, can promise that twitter fame or a show on E! will bring peace. Lasting peace, a gift from God, is only present in a heart that rests in God, open to loving the people He gives you to love.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27).

Heaven Is Not A Goal (With a Short Discourse on College)

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Vision and Student Engagement

Contact Author

 

I have never been to Heaven, though I have been to Iowa. Iowa is not Heaven, but it may open to it. When Ray Kinsella built his Field of Dreams, he followed the seemingly nonsensical promise that turning his plowshares into baseball bats and his crop rows into foul lines would draw some untold company. But even as he built a destination for dreamers, the prophecy within the film—eventually spoken in the only voice that should ever deliver prophecy: that of James Earl Jones—reveals why the dream is for something other than the field itself. The thing that matters is not the place at journey’s end but to enjoy what you find there:

People will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn into your driveway, not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door, as innocent as children, longing for the past. “Of course, we won’t mind if you look around,” you’ll say, “It’s only twenty dollars per person.” And they’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it, for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk off to the bleachers and sit in their short sleeves on a perfect afternoon. And find they have reserved seats somewhere along the baselines where they sat when they were children, and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game, and it’ll be as if they’d dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come, Ray.

I love the little throwaway line in the middle of this monologue where the mystical enjoyment of this game—on this field—is described as bringing the pilgrims enjoyment so wonderful that it will “be as if they’d dipped themselves in magic waters.” In Kinsella’s original book (which has somewhat bizarre religious overtones), this line is written like this: “…it will be as if they have knelt in front of a faith healer, or dipped themselves in magic waters where a saint once rose like a serpent and cast benedictions to the wind like peach petals,” (Shoeless Joe by Ray Kinsella). The contrast in images is startling, for a serpent rises up in order to strike with venom but in this case the rising up with the force of a serpent issues good-words that are as delicate, fragrant, and comforting as petals on the wind. I doubt Kinsella knew that he was basically describing Saint Juan Diego who as a child would have received a lecture from his father in which he was told “not to rise like a serpent and shoot out anger against the people, instead receive them in love,” (Our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego: The Historical Evidence by Eduardo Chávez). juan diego

As a grown man, Juan fulfills and exceeds this instruction when, at Our Lady’s instruction, he rises up before the bishop to let petals fall from his tilma. Kinsella’s odd image suggests that one who embodies all the power of a striking serpent in order to bless rather than to curse is like a saint, and that the transformation of that power from fury to peace is like magic.

Imagine trying to teach a serpent to redirect all his instincts towards a new end. I imagine you would have to do nothing less than make him forget his former action before teaching him how to use the same power for a new action, one which is quite the opposite of his former one. That is what it would be like, say, for a soldier to wholly recast the power of his own efforts in favor of a new purpose—you know, like Ignatius of Loyola, who was first broken of his own ambitions in order to be re-educated for a new purpose. In service of that new purpose, Ignatius exercised no less passion than he did on the battlefield—i.e., he became the one who rose like a serpent not to strike down but to build up. Just so, the peasant Juan Diego takes on the serpent’s and soldier’s poise to strike with the blessing given to him from Our Lady. Perhaps Juan had to be given the soldier’s courage while Ignatius had to be given the peasant’s meekness. In either case, the union of opposites—“the meek soldier” and “the bold peasant”—is no less peculiar than a serpent offering benediction, which is so anomalous that only something like magic could explain it.

Which brings me back to that little throwaway line about being dipped in magic waters: You know who else imagined this kind of transformation in like terms? Dante. At the top of the Mountain of Purgatory—that place of transformation—Dante imagines two boundaries of water on either side of the Earthly Paradise. In truth, the two bodies of water are the same river that flow “from God’s own will” (Purgatorio 28:125), but on one side of the Earthly Paradise it is called Lethe and on the other it is called Eunoe. The River Lethe is a river of forgetfulness: as if by magic it “take[s] the memory of sin away,” (Purgatorio 28:128; cf. Inferno 14:136-138). John_William_Waterhouse_-_Dante_and_MatildaThese waters wash away all the prideful, envious, wrathful, slothful, covetous, gluttonous, and lustful urges, habits, and even consequences of such actions, leaving the one who emerges from the waters without memory. Every memory is taken away from the one who plunges into these waters because all of his memories—like that of a serpent for whom the instinct to strike with venom flows in every part of himself—were tinged with aspects of the sins that plague him. To be without memory, though, is to not be yourself, and to become yourself is the whole point of the purgatorial journey; therefore, on the other side of the Earthly Paradise, the River Eunoe flows to restore the memory of “all good done,” (Purgatorio 28:129; cf. 33:124-132, 142-145). All that power expended upon ulterior motives, slanderous thoughts and deeds, furtive games of rivalry, and acts of love muddied with undue self-regard… all of that power is restored and released for an holistic purpose: to praise the One who blesses and to serve the good of others. On the far side of Eunoe, the saint emerges with the power of a rising serpent speaking benedictions that are as fragrant, delicate, and comforting as petals on the wind.

Dante’s saints are free to praise and serve in the activity of Heaven, while Kinsella’s saints are free for what that dreamy field offers. For Dante, the saint is not simply defined as the one who passes from the Earthly Paradise to the Heavenly Paradise; rather, Dante’s saint is the one who enjoys the Heavenly Paradise. Likewise for Kinsella, the saints of baseball that he imagines are not made by coming to the Iowa field, but rather by enjoying the game they find there. Iowa isn’t Heaven because Heaven is not a goal, and Heaven is not a goal because gaining admission isn’t the point. Enjoying Heaven is the point.

John Henry Newman had a way of speaking of Heaven that made it seem rather un-enjoyable, at least at first glance. In one of his better-known sermons, he describes Heaven thusly:

Heaven then is not like this world; I will say what it is much more like—a church. For in a place of public worship no language of this world is heard; there are no schemes brought forward for temporal objects, great or small; no information how to strengthen our worldly interests, extend our influence, or establish our credit. These things indeed may be right in their way, so that we do not set our hearts upon them; still (I repeat), it is certain that we hear nothing of them in a church. Here we hear solely and entirely of God (“Holiness Necessary for Future Blessedness”).

For most of us—myself included—spending eternity in a church actually sounds pretty terrible. If Heaven is like a church, then maybe it is rather like baseball: it’s tedious, it’s repetitive, and it takes forever. That, in fact, is precisely Newman’s point. We tend to conceive of Heaven on our own terms, but we would do well to practice re-conceiving of ourselves in the God-given terms of Heaven. The language of this world is often the language of suspicion and duplicity; the schemes of this world are typically directed towards one’s self-promotion; and the credit we seek to accrue in this world is weighed in the laudations we earn or even the laudations we trick others into conferring upon us. A church—rightly conceived—is a place free of these games because it practices its participants in another game: learning to enjoy that place where a good we do not earn is given and where we delight in sharing that good with others. That place is Heaven. In the world, we practice springing our energies in poisonous maneuvers to either subtly or not-so-subtly advance ourselves even at the expense of others. In a church we practice taking the good of others as our own good. The energy expended is comparable but the purpose is not. In a church, the mighty learn how to wield their might in favor of the meek and the meek learn how to boldly lead the mighty in benediction.

Only once our memories are cleansed of past grievances, shame, and worldly ambition, may our memories be restored to new life in forgiveness, gratitude, and charity. In a way reminiscent of Augustine’s contemplation of the life of the saints at the conclusion of Book XXII of City of God, Newman encourages us to seek memories redeemed in mercy:

Let us thankfully commemorate the many mercies He has vouchsafed to us in times past, the many sins He has not remembered, the many dangers He has averted, the many prayers He has answered, the many mistakes He has corrected, the many warnings, the many lessons, the much light, the abounding comfort which He has from time to time given. Let us dwell upon times and seasons, times of trouble, times of joy, times of trial, times of refreshment (“Remembrance of Past Mercies”).

There is a lot to remember there, and remembering all of that would take all of our energy, all of the time. This activity would be so engaging that we would hand over all we think we’ve earned and all we think we’re due as if we were “pass[ing] over money without even thinking about it” in order to enjoy the peace we once lacked. Money, here, stands for all that worldly ambition procures and giving that up is precisely the admission price for a “perfect afternoon”.

To think about this in another setting, consider the typically unadvertised condition of a majority (or at least a significant minority) of college students, including and perhaps especially those who are currently enrolled at their elite “dream schools”. The problem of conceiving of Heaven as a goal is echoed in the perils of conceiving of college admission itself as a goal, especially since in the case of the latter we often train children and teens to cultivate ambition toward that end, to measure themselves according to admissibility, and to compete with each other for position and ranking. For those in the most prestigious and selective colleges, the ambitious, achievement-driven, metrics-obsessed, comparison-laden, goal-oriented behaviors that they all virtually had to cultivate in order to get into their “dream schools” are the very same habits that prevent them from enjoying college.

AdmissionWhen these students get to college, they keep often keep operating according to what they’ve been trained to value: the pursuit of accomplishments and the calculation of worth by inverse comparison to the merits of others. In short, their capacity to learn in order to grow, to venture even at the risk of failure, and to allow themselves to be seen as in process rather than finished products is dulled precisely because of how ‘the system’ (Newman’s “world”) shaped them in order to achieve admission to college and, moreover, what ‘the system’ continues to expect of them once they are in college. The antidote to the venom of the system is not to expect less of college students; in fact, the antidote is to expect more: they should be guided to be more fully human rather than little goal-gobbling achievement-machines, especially since little goal-gobbling achievement-machines eventually breakdown, whether during college or afterwards. (Full disclosure: I myself am a recovering goal-gobbling achievement-machine).

After all, you can’t enjoy a baseball game if you’re obsessed with how much everything costs, who has the best seat, and how to consistently “upgrade your experience,” just like you can’t enjoy Heaven if you keep thinking about how to get ahead, how to work the situation to your own advantage, or how to favorably compare your merits to those of others. In this regard, even elite Catholic colleges may not very much resemble Newman’s own idea of a university, which is certainly meant to cultivate virtue more than ambition, so that when the exorbitant tuition fees change hands it is not done with the consumer expectation that “I better get my money’s worth.” (Another note in the interest of full disclosure: I don’t think exorbitant tuition fees are okay.) What you should get when you gain admission is an education not for the sake of what you think you like but what will help you to enjoy life, unto life everlasting.

If we are to listen to the prophetic voice of James Earl Jones (as we always should), or that of Dante or of John Henry Newman, then we might come to imagine that if saints are indeed models, they are models not because of where they end up or what they achieve but because of who and what they become. The saints are grateful, they admire each other, they praise together, and they passionately enjoy all of this. The question of Iowa fields and (elite) colleges is also the question of Heaven itself: what are you learning to enjoy?

Follow Leonard DeLorenzo @leodelo2.

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For a lovely reflection on the construction of a Cathedral, Field of Dreams, and Heaven, see Hope Feist’s blogpost from earlier this year.