Category Archives: New Evangelization

Dwelling with Love Incarnate (Part 1)

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Editor’s Note: This first of two posts is part of a lecture given to inaugurate the Institute for Church Life’s 2nd annual International Crèche Pilgrimage, Dwelling with Love Incarnate. 

This December, during the season of Advent, my wife and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. I say this not as an invitation for the wider internet community to bestow me with some gift to honor the occasion. Married in the midst of Advent, the most common gift that we received were nativity sets. All sorts. Nativity sets that were Christmas tree ornaments; small stand-alone sets from Mexico, Thailand, and Palestine; a large nativity set purchased by a group of friends (and now in the midst of being systematically destroyed by our son). Our marriage has unfolded in a home overflowing with crèches.

When asked to give this second annual lecture, I wanted to reflect a bit on what the crèche means for family life in general. In the heated debates that seemed to mark the recent Synod on the Family, it nonetheless became obvious that a robust spiritual vision of family life is necessary as we find ourselves immersed in the third millennium. That is, it is the family in particular in which the renewal of the Church will unfold. As Pope Francis noted in his homily delivered at the World Meeting of Families:

These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work. Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to become faith.

Thus, in this series, I would like to invite us to reflect on how the practice of keeping a crèche in the home is in fact one of these small acts of love, ultimately transformative of what it means for the family to dwell together in love incarnate. It is an occasion of evangelization, that is to quote Paul VI, “…bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new” (EN 18).

Yet, it seems right in examining family life through the lens of the crèche that we adopt the same aesthetic pedagogy of the crèches themselves. Thus, this series will unfold in three parts, each beginning with a piece of music related to the nativity of Christ. Through these pieces of music, we will explore three ways that the crèche provides a way of renewing the domestic Church in particular:

1) Forming us to see domestic life as a locus for the enfleshment of God’s love.

2) Inviting us to participate in the Incarnation through the drama of history.

3) Seeing the family as an icon of the new evangelization, one in which the practice of keeping a crèche manifests the Church’s memory in history.

O Magnum Mysterium

O magnum mysterium,

et admirabile sacramentum,

ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,

jacentem in praesepio!

Beata Virgo, cujus viscera

meruerunt portare

Dominum Christum.


O great mystery,

and wonderful sacrament,

that animals should see the new-born Lord,

lying in a manger!

Blessed is the Virgin whose womb

was worthy to bear

Christ the Lord.


The irony of the nativity of Jesus Christ is that its prevalence within various forms of artistic media, including our nativity sets, has perhaps led us to no longer be filled with awe at the wonderful event taking place in the manger. We see a mother and a father. A collection of angels, singing songs of joy at the birth of Jesus. Three kings, offerings gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. A cast of animals, perhaps even overly interested in the birth of this human child.

Yet, the setting of O Magnum Mysterium (a text sung by monks at the rising of the sun on Christmas morning) invites us to look anew at the iconic mystery unfolding in these crèches. O great mystery, O wonderful sacrament that these animals in particular are the ones, who see the Lord born of a Virgin. What is this mystery, this sacred sign? And what’s the deal with the animals?

For some time, I imagined that I would want to return to being an infant. I considered a world in which I no longer had to be awake for significant periods of times; a world in which my every hunger was met by someone when I made the smallest cry; a world in which although immobile, everyone seemed to delight in moving me about. Yet, as I watched my son in the earliest days of his life, I came to the realization that infancy is in fact a rather humiliating period of life. The infant has thoughts that he or she cannot communicate to anyone, being reduced to making desires known through tears alone. The infant must rely on those around him or her for food, for shelter, for cleanliness, for comfort in the midst of sorrows. The infant is subject to the powers of the world, unable to even really recognize threats against his or her welfare.

Thus, the great mystery, the wonderful sacrament of the Nativity is the fact that God became fully human as an infant. Divine love was poured out from the bosom of the Father through the Son, a love that makes God radically vulnerable. The very Word that orders creation, that gives meaning to all of human life, that gazes with love upon the Father in the Godhead, becomes flesh pro nobis, for us. Augustine of Hippo, commenting on this fact, preaches:

He lies in a manger, but he holds the whole world in his hands: he sucks his mother’s breasts, but feeds the angels; he is swaddled in rags, but clothes us in immortality; he is suckled, but also worshiped; he could find no room in the inn, but makes a temple for himself in the hearts of believers. It was in order, you see, that weakness might become strong, that strength became weak (Augustine, s. 190.4).

IconNativityIconography of the nativity unfolds the radical vulnerability in God in particular ways. The newborn son is depicted wrapped in swaddling clothes, a sign already of the burial clothes that will clothe Mary’s son in the tomb on Good Friday. These icons depict the first bath of the Word made flesh, an image of God’s radical solidarity with the human condition. The crèche scene functions as an icon of the kenosis of the Son, the radical self-emptying love that is the source of the world’s very renewal.

Which brings us to the animals gathered around the crèche? For, perhaps the greatest scandal of the Incarnation, of the enfleshment of the Word, is the hiddenness of the birth of the Son in the first place. He is not born in a palace, a place where the power of the world could be exercised. He is born among the beasts of the field, unable to comprehend the marvel taking place.  As Benedict XVI notes about the hiddenness of this birth:

From the moment of his birth, he belongs outside the realm of what is important and powerful in wordly terms. Yet it is this unimportant and powerless child that proves to be the truly powerful one, the one on whom ultimately everything depends. So one aspect of becoming a Christian is having to leave behind what everyone else thinks and wants, the prevailing standards, in order to enter the light of the truth of our being, and aided by that light to find the right path (Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth: Volume 3, 67).

In the birth of the first born Son in the silence of the evening, we have an image of what it now means to be fully human. The fullness of our humanity is exercised through the powerlessness of love.

Thus, the wonderful mystery of Christ’s birth is that the renewal of humanity already has begun through the nativity of the Lord. As Ephrem the Syrian notes in Hymn 3 on the Nativity:

            Glory to Him, Who never needs us to thank Him.

Yet He [became] need for He loves us, and He thirsted for He cherishes us.

And He asks us to give to Him so that He may give us even more.

His Fruit was mingled with our human nature

to draw us toward Him Who bent down to us (3.17).

As God becomes human, the horizon of humanity opens up so that every aspect of the human condition has the possibility of being drawn into divine life.

For this reason, perhaps, it is most appropriate that the crèche finds pride in place in the home itself. The sacrament of marriage is that taking up of what is most human, most mundane, the domesticity of love, into divine life: “In the union of husband and wife/you give a sign of Christ’s loving gift of grace,/so that the Sacrament we celebrate/might draw us back more deeply/into the wondrous design of your love” (Eucharistic Prayer, For the Celebration of Marriage, B). Yet, there is nothing stunning about this love, as any married couple might note. The love of marriage is lived out through those hidden practices of tenderness that mark married life. With the birth of children, the powerlessness of this love becomes even more evident. Salvation unfolds in the context of the Christian family as it did in the manger: without anyone powerful aware of the mystery taking place.

The crèche, then, forms the family to see its own life as the hidden manifestation of divine love. It reminds the family to expect the unfolding of salvation not simply through signs and wonders but first and foremost in the tender compassion we learn to show one another. In this way, in a world that often devalues such a hidden life, the crèche restores the family to its proper place as the dramatic locale for salvation in the world; as itself a great mystery of divine love.

St. John’s University and the Playful Gravity of Time

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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This week, I’m visiting St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN for a series of workshops on hosting the St. John’s Bible at Notre Dame in an upcoming academic year. Like the rest of the Midwest, St. John’s is awash with autumnal color, sign of the beautiful death that the land is presently undergoing. And of course, like many universities, the passing of time is ubiquitous on campus as midterm week gives way to the second half of the semester, which will give way to Christmas celebrations (and in this case feet of snow).

Yet, the playful gravity of time at St. John’s feels different, because of the liturgical practice of the monks, who are the illuminati among us Catholics at marking time. Morning Prayer and Noon Prayer and Evening Prayer. The bells ring out from the Abbey Church, calling all those present to awareness of time’s passage. Indeed, at other schools, bells ring constantly. But, in this case, the bells that ring are markers of a community’s actual prayer (instead of a reminder that it is in fact 8:00 PM). At St. John’s that 7:00 AM bell is an audible sign that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ has sanctified all the hours of the day and week and year.

MarcelBruerSince arriving on campus, I have attended three liturgies in this Abbey Church, all at different times of day. At Sunday evening Vespers, the wall of stained glass glowed forth with the power of the Resurrection, every hue of that massive panel fulfilling the fullness of its colorful vocation. Last night, at the Eucharistic celebration of undergraduate students, the stained glass reflected the darkness of night, the only light emerging from the Eucharistic liturgy playing out within the walls of the Church. This morning, at Lauds, the stained glass windows awakened with the sleepy choir of monks and guests, once again revealing its colorful hues as the Canticle of Zechariah came forth from our lips, the daybreak from on high.

This practice of marking time intrinsic to the Benedictine charism might offer something unique to Catholic higher education in a secular age. University discourse tends to refer to some distant future in which all knowledge will be discovered, in which progress will be made, in which endowments will grow. Yet, here at St. John’s, a radical alternative time interrupts again and again. The time not of capital campaigns, of curricular reviews, but the playful gravity of time embodied in the Christo-centric Liturgy of the Hours.

If I was a student at St. John’s, perhaps, I could not help but discover that this grounding in time, in the present celebration of the mystery of Christ, might actually be the most important part of my education on this campus. That to be a young person is not to wish away time, to hope for the day in which I will have the perfect employment opportunity, the right spouse, the ideal living situation. Instead, it is to let the present be infused with the reality of God’s activity, to perceive my vocation hic et nunc, here and now. My vocation as student. As one seeking a form of life, which will give shape to a life of discipleship. The time for salvation, the time for formation, the time to be fully human in Christ is not a distant hope. It is the time that is unfolding within the rural landscape of this Abbey Church and University.

In the midst of trends in Catholic higher education that strive for increasing graduate research, international immersion for undergraduates, and constant updating of curricula to remain up to date, it is helpful to keep before our eyes the playful gravity of the time that the monks celebrate day-to-day. And perhaps wonder, in the midst of a higher education landscape full the apostolic vigor of Jesuits and Holy Cross and Dominicans, if the marking of time that the Benedictines embody might actually be the key to renewing Catholic higher education in a secular age.

After all, it wouldn’t be the first time that the renewal of education and the Church comes from the sons and daughters of Monte Cassino.




Re-Ordering Our Church Politics

Molly DailyMolly Daily, ND ’14

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

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When Pope Francis stood before a Joint Session of the United States Congress, I watched with anticipation, joy, and excitement. After all, it was a combination of many of my favorite things – Pope Francis, the Catholic Church in general, politics, and people actually watching a joint session of Congress. It was also the perfect platform for Pope Francis to proclaim (much more eloquently than I could) that which I tried to articulate as a political science student, a government worker, and a devout Catholic. He declared:

A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps.

Synod-on-the-Family-imageOur Holy Father’s advice is one that was quickly ignored by folks on either side of the aisle, who chose to stand and applaud at points of his speech that traditionally coincided with their Democratic or Republican beliefs, respectively. It is a statement that should be taken very seriously in the coming weeks of the Synod on the Family. As the Synod begins, the Catholic Church in America has once again forcefully divided itself into two camps–the conservative and the liberal. Americans on either side of the political aisle are taking to the opinion sections of their newspapers, while media professionals are encouraging this division by reporting upon it. In general, headlines with catchy titles with words like controversy, “sparks fly,” tension, and the like abound.

This commentary, controversy, and at times petty talk reflects a deeper schism in America that I see all the time – in college students, in politics, in parishes, and far too often in myself. Churches or parishes are defined as “liberal” or “conservative.” Those on either end of the political spectrum choose the pieces of faith that align with their political beliefs, and simply ignore, forget about, or explain away those that don’t.

When we divide our Catholicism into “Liberal” and “Conservative,” are we not diving headfirst into this same polarization, this simplistic naming of ourselves and our political beliefs as “good” and those of the other as “evil?” It strikes me as altogether heartbreaking that we simply skim over this piece of Pope Francis’ remarks and jump straight to a new controversy – after all, the Pope’s visit is over; he’s back in Europe now.

When we label our faith as ”Liberal” or “Conservative,” we reduce the sacrifice of Christ and the fullness of truth held in the Catholic faith. We make Gods of a political system created by human beings. We forget the supreme Truth revealed to us through the story of creation and the redemption of the world. We try to fit our Catholicism into our political beliefs, when we should look the other way around. Our politics do not define us; what is revealed in Christ does. To say otherwise is to build up our own importance and suggest that a human system knows better than the Lord, the giver of life, the fullness of reality.

There is only one solution to this ongoing temptation that is so prevalent in the United States. In the liturgy and the Eucharist, we are reminded of the right order of the world. We come to understand and present the memory of the world, the redemptive sacrifice of Christ, the salvation of the world, and the Love which created and continues to move us, as the single most important thing in our lives and our worlds. We need this constant reminder to reorder our priorities, to return to that which created and compels us, and to give credit where it truly belongs. When we participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice, we are able to accept that we are not the center of our own world, and that our political beliefs are developed through our faith, not the other way around.

Perhaps, we can do nothing more important than attend the Eucharist during the Synod, avoiding the politics of suspicion that marks so much present discourse.

The Gospel of the Family

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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On Sunday, foregoing the trip to Philadelphia for the Papal Mass, I found myself at my “slightly-less-crowded-than-the-Ben-Franklin- Parkway” parish with toddler in tow. My wife was the cantor, and I was thus charged with toddler liturgical care during the celebration of the Mass. Sitting in the very first row and kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer, I whispered into the ear of my son during the Institution Narrative that it was “Jesus up there.” He responded with his usual acclamation that recognizes something important: “That!,” he exclaimed rather loudly.

This, as it turns out, was simply one of the many moments in which I would ponder with my son the joy of the Gospel on this particular Sunday. My wife had a choir concert, and therefore, we spent the evening together at an Irish pub in downtown South Bend, where the Eucharistic feast gave way to the pub burger. We then went to Vespers at the Basilica, only to return home seemingly drunk on incense. We ended our evening together as we kissed an icon together and bid night-night to Jesus, Mary, and St. Thomas.

I could not help but think of these moments as I re-read the Pope’s various comments on the Gospel of the Family during his days in Philadelphia. Nearly all attention relative to the Synod on the Family is being devoted to the question of divorced and remarried Catholics being allowed to receive the Eucharist. In reality, the Pope drew our attention elsewhere, to the very heart of the family itself. In his off-the-cuff remarks at the Festival of Families, the Holy Father noted:

Being with you makes me think of one of the most beautiful mysteries of our Christian faith. God did not want to come into the world other than through a family. God did not want to draw near to humanity other than through a home. God did not want any other name for himself than Emmanuel (cf. Mt 1:23). He is “God with us”. This was his desire from the beginning, his purpose, his constant effort: to say to us: “I am God with you, I am God for you”. He is the God who from the very beginning of creation said: “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). We can add: it is not good for woman to be alone, it is not good for children, the elderly or the young to be alone. It is not good. That is why a man leaves his father and mother, and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24). The two are meant to be a home, a family.

From time immemorial, in the depths of our heart, we have heard those powerful words: it is not good for you to be alone. The family is the great blessing, the great gift of this “God with us”, who did not want to abandon us to the solitude of a life without others, without challenges, without a home.

God does not dream by himself, he tries to do everything “with us”. His dream constantly comes true in the dreams of many couples who work to make their life that of a family.

That is why the family is the living symbol of the loving plan of which the Father once dreamed. To want to form a family is to resolve to be a part of God’s dream, to choose to dream with him, to want to build with him, to join him in this saga of building a world where no one will feel alone, unwanted or homeless.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 27: Pope Francis (C) celebrates mass during the World Meeting of Families on September 27, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Pope Francis wrapped up his United States tour with the World Meeting of Families Papal Mass during on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 27: Pope Francis (C) celebrates mass during the World Meeting of Families on September 27, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Pope Francis wrapped up his United States tour with the World Meeting of Families Papal Mass during on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In this way, the family is not simply the “object” of evangelization; rather, it is the agent of divine love in the world. Every family, no matter their particular religious background, serves as an icon of God’s vision of the destiny of human life as solidarity with one another. If families disappear, if commitment dissipates, if children are not born, if grandparents are not cared for, then a sign of divine love dries up in the world. The proclamation of God’s love does not have a place to take flesh.

For this reason, Pope Francis urges bishops attending the World Meeting of Families to avoid treating families as a problem to be dealt with. He exhorts:

For the Church, the family is not first and foremost a cause for concern, but rather the joyous confirmation of God’s blessing upon the masterpiece of creation. Every day, all over the world, the Church can rejoice in the Lord’s gift of so many families who, even amid difficult trials, remain faithful to their promises and keep the faith!

I would say that the foremost pastoral challenge of our changing times is to move decisively towards recognizing this gift. For all the obstacles we see before us, gratitude and appreciation should prevail over concerns and complaints. The family is the fundamental locus of the covenant between the Church and God’s creation. Without the family, not even the Church would exist. Nor could she be what she is called to be, namely “a sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race” (Lumen Gentium, 1).

The existence of families, even if taking a different form than previous generations, should be a cause for celebration not dismay. The pastor is one who is to make the joys and sorrows of family life his own. A parish’s pastoral approach must not view the couple who comes to you for marriage suspiciously; to set up exceedingly difficult regulations for having a child baptized; to merely deal with parents of confirmation candidates, who don’t seem to care. Rather, the Gospel of the Family demands that everyone responsible for pastoral ministry recognize the seeds of the Gospel already flourishing in the midst of any family life.

For it is precisely the unique constitution of the family itself, which makes it rich soil for the proclamation of the Gospel in the modern world. In his closing homily in Philadelphia, Pope Francis preaches:

Faith opens a “window” to the presence and working of the Spirit. It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures. “Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name — a small gesture — will not go unrewarded”, says Jesus (cf. Mk 9:41). These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children, by brothers. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work. Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life grows in faith.

Secularization will not be forestalled through setting up ramparts against modern ways of thinking. Individualism cannot be defeated simply through reading tomes against it. Rather, one learns the Gospel as a father whispers into the ear of his child the glorious mysteries of divine love revealed in the Eucharist; as that same child spends an afternoon with his father, delighted to play with a toy giraffe for hour upon hour in his presence, forming his father in learning to delight in the smallest things; as father and son eat a meal together in perfect contentment (one watching football, the other enjoying Elmo); as they attend Vespers on a warm, autumn day, singing along to the Salve Regina; as they come home and the father gives his wife a hug, as the child squeals in delight at the sight of his mom. As they read stories together and pray together and go to bed, aware of the gift of their way of life.


You see, the miracle of the Gospel of the Family is that is shows once again that proclaiming the Good News, evangelizing the world, is no more complicated than practicing the art of self-giving love day after day within one’s life. The Synod on the Family will hold this mystery up to the world, inviting pastors to think anew about the role of families in the new evangelization of the world. It won’t be about new regulations alone or modernizing annual proceedings. This is precisely the legalistic way of thinking, which the Pope deplores. It will instead show how divine mercy manifests itself day-after-day in family life. It will, perhaps, propose to the Church that the great next moment of evangelization will not occur through missionary orders but through those everyday meals that form a family in the art of hospitality. It will remind us that the greatest threat to the family is not divorce but the terrible poverty that often makes this self-giving love impossible in the midst of worries, of forced immigration of one parent. And the Synod on the Family will announce that this is the way of death, not the way of life.

This is the Gospel of the Family that the Pope has proposed to the world. I, for one, have heard it as Good News.


Blessings from the Balcony to Heal the Heart of a Nation

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Vision and Student Engagement

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I would like to reflect on Pope Francis’s historic speech to Congress from the outside-in; i.e., beginning from the blessing he offered from the Speaker’s balcony back to the form of healing he promoted within congressional chambers. While outside facing the people, Francis united his petition to God with a request of the people:

Father of all, bless these. Bless each of them. Bless the families. Bless them all. And I ask you all please to pray for me. And if there are among you any who do not believe or cannot pray, I ask you to please send good wishes my way.

There are at least two movements to this one united act of prayer. In the first movement, Francis offers in prayer to the Father the wellbeing of all those gathered before him. In doing so, he claims all of us as his brothers and sisters, children of the one God. The second movement is to ask all of us to pray for him—i.e., to take upon ourselves what he seeks to do for us: put ourselves at the service of the good of others, including himself.

In this two-part action, Francis exemplified what he recommended in the latter pages of his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium: trusting in intercessory prayer. He singles out that form of prayer as especially conducive to spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ because in it we practice moving outside ourselves to make room in our hearts for one another:

One form of prayer moves us particularly to take up the task of evangelization and to seek the good of others: it is the prayer of intercession. Let us peer for a moment into the heart of St. Paul, to see what his prayer was like. It was full of people: “I constantly pray with you in every one of my prayers for all of you… because I hold you in my heart” (Phil 1:4, 7). Here we see that intercessory prayer does not divert us from true contemplation, since authentic contemplation always has a place for others. This attitude becomes a prayer of gratitude to God for others. […] Far from being suspicious, negative and despairing, it is a spiritual gaze born of deep faith which acknowledges what God is doing in the lives of others (Evangelii Gaudium, §281-282).

In Evangelii Gaudium, Francis speaks of intercessory prayer as a necessary form of prayer for the evangelizer, whose mission is to seek the good of others in all she does as she spreads the Good News. In his blessing from the Speaker’s Balcony, he showed us the other side of this prayer’s power: that wishing for the good of others is itself a way of beginning to pray.

With the humble respectfulness that we have come to know as characteristic of Francis, he made room for those who do not or cannot pray, and what he asked from them is simply that they wish him well. It is a simple request—low-stakes and non-threatening. Moreover, it is not a trick. He asked all of us to be a little more human in wishing each other well, humbling himself to receive whatever form of blessing each of us is able to bestow upon him. Even for those who do not believe in God and who do not pray, he invited us to act as brothers and sisters in making room in ourselves for the cares and good of others. This act of generosity and of challenge is reminiscent of the remarkable sign of respect and affection he showed in 2013 at the end of his first press briefing, when he invited the members of the press into a moment of silent reflection out of respect for the consciences of those who are not Catholic or do not believe in God, “knowing that each one of you is a child of God.” In short, for those of us who do not call upon the one Father of us all, Francis asks that we act as though we were children in the same family.

Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, making history as the first pontiff to do so. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Looking back upon the speech to Congress from the blessing on the Speaker’s Balcony allows us to appreciate how he was proposing this same dynamic to our elected representatives. He called upon the representatives of the American People to practice seeing each other as brothers and sisters. Consider this section of his speech:

The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps [of good vs. evil, righteous vs. sinners]. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject. […] We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.

It seems to me that Francis is saying that we, as a People, reject tyrannical forces that seek to replace the good of the many with the self-interests of the few and the powerful. Forces that neglect the common good are dehumanizing. But in our opposition to these forces of dehumanization, we must not seek to dehumanize those who disagree with us, or even those who directly oppose us. Should we give in to this reactionary form of violence, then we imitate that which we reject. Instead, we must practice caring even for those who disagree with and oppose us, seeking their good along with our own. In like fashion, this posture of strength in humility must begin with exercising care and concern for one another, accepting even those who disagree with and oppose us within the household of our own nation as our brothers and sisters. In other words, he is instructing the members of Congress to break from their pathological suspicion of and enmity for those across the aisle, inciting them instead to practice mutual concern. If they can do nothing else, start by sending good wishes.

Perhaps this is idealistic, but even so it is the form of true governance. Francis asks for nothing less than for the hearts of those in Congress to be filled with the cares and the good of the People they represent. To do this, they must also accept the cares and recognize the good of those who disagree with and oppose them from within their own governing body. In his words of counsel:

Politics is an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its good, its interests, its social life. […] In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.

As the Pontifex Maximus – the great bridge builder – Francis understands his vocation to be one of bringing back together those who are separated from each other. What separates political leaders from one another, their constituents, and the common good is their own desire to occupy space, to retain power, to protect their own interests or the interests of small groups with special influence. Referring directly to Evangelii Gaudium, Francis remarked that, “A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces.” In other words, the urge to take space for oneself is a sign of illness, so the medicine is to practice giving the space of your position and power over to the cares and good of others.

This trust in the healing influence of intercessory prayer, which might seem like weakness in the halls of power, symbolizes the movement of Francis’s entire Pontificate. On the night he was elected, he stepped on to the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s square and performed the same action he performed from the balcony overlooking Capitol Hill: he offered blessing and asked for blessing.

Peter BlessingAnd now I would like to give the blessing. But first I want to ask you a favor. Before the Bishop blesses the people I ask that you would pray to the Lord to bless me—the prayer of the people for their Bishop. Let us say this prayer—your prayer for me—in silence. […] I will now give my blessing to you and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will.

To the whole world, to the American People, and to the members of Congress, Francis’s action is his message and his message is the same: Sacrifice your own self-interest by making room for the cares and good of others. This is the movement of the Blessed Mother, whom he calls “Star of the New Evangelization” (EG §288), the one who made room within herself. It is also the movement of the greatest of all evangelizers, St. Paul, whose prayer was “full of people”. For those of us who cannot pray as they did, Francis asks us to begin with sending good wishes. If we can learn to do that, then we are already beginning to move within the “Joy of the Gospel”.

Read more from Leonard @leodelo2.

Reading the Code: Pope Francis’ Speech to Congress

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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When I teach my students how to interpret the Bible, I often have to emphasize that the Scriptures are written in a coherent literary code, which the reader needs to learn. For example, Egypt is never simply a place but an embodiment of a specific form of evil empire. Mountains are never mountains alone but locales for divine revelation. Since Pope Francis is an able reader of the Scriptures and astute user of rhetoric, it is necessary to read Pope Francis’ speeches as written in this kind of literary code. Although addressed to Congress, Pope Francis was speaking to all Americans, many of whom would pick up on the code of the text (even if Republicans and Democrats alike were too busy applauding when the Pope proclaimed a truth they happened to agree with). In the following piece, I hope to provide some interpretation of this code.

Yesterday’s Homily: Christo-centric Mission

Public papal addresses during apostolic visits are not written solely to provide sound bites. Rather, these speeches and homilies build off one another, presuming in some way that they’d all be eventually read together (and become in some ways part of the Magisterium of the Church). Thus, it is important to note the Christo-centric and mission-oriented content of yesterday’s homily by Pope Francis. In this homily, Pope Francis preaches:

Jesus sends his disciples out to all nations. To every people. We too were part of all those people of two thousand years ago. Jesus did not provide a short list of who is, or is not, worthy of receiving his message, his presence. Instead, he always embraced life as he saw it. In faces of pain, hunger, sickness and sin. In faces of wounds, of thirst, of weariness, doubt and pity. Far from expecting a pretty life, smartly-dressed and neatly groomed, he embraced life as he found it. It made no difference whether it was dirty, unkempt, broken. Jesus said: Go out and tell the good news to everyone. Go out and in my name embrace life as it is, and not as you think it should be. Go out to the highways and byways, go out to tell the good news fearlessly, without prejudice, without superiority, without condescension, to all those who have lost the joy of living. Go out to proclaim the merciful embrace of the Father. Go out to those who are burdened by pain and failure, who feel that their lives are empty, and proclaim the folly of a loving Father who wants to anoint them with the oil of hope, the oil of salvation. Go out to proclaim the good news that error, deceitful illusions and falsehoods do not have the last word in a person’s life. Go out with the ointment which soothes wounds and heals hearts.

Mission is never the fruit of a perfectly planned program or a well-organized manual. Mission is always the fruit of a life which knows what it is to be found and healed, encountered and forgiven. Mission is born of a constant experience of God’s merciful anointing.

The Church, the holy People of God, treads the dust-laden paths of history, so often traversed by conflict, injustice and violence, in order to encounter her children, our brothers and sisters. The holy and faithful People of God are not afraid of losing their way; they are afraid of becoming self-enclosed, frozen into elites, clinging to their own security. They know that self-enclosure, in all the many forms it takes, is the cause of so much apathy.

Here, we read that the Church goes forth into the “dust-laden paths of history” to proclaim the Good News that Jesus Christ is Lord of heaven and earth. That the darkness of the world, whether experienced through social injustice or the existential misery that often haunts the human heart, can be illumined through an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ, who is the light of life. Thus, the Church’s involvement in history is not a dabbling in the political sphere, a “progressive” re-orientation of the Church’s mission away from salvation (which the unfortunate title of a piece at Crux suggested). Rather, it is in the concrete and historical existence of the world that the Good News of Jesus Christ is proclaimed. The Pope’s address to politicians in Congress, then, is an extension of the vocation of the Church to proclaim salvation to all human beings. This proclamation is centered in Jesus Christ, even if that name was not spoken in the halls of Congress. For at the heart of the Church’s message of salvation is the unity and peace among human beings in Christ.

The Four Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton

PopeinUSGood speakers often employ “typologies” that enable the listener of the speech to remember what is said. At one level, Pope Francis’ use of four Americans, who were concerned about the plight of human dignity are examples of this rhetorical approach. Yet, there is a subtle rhetorical move by Pope Francis in his employment of these four figures. Indeed, any good American would recognize the gifts provided to the country by Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. (both of whom are honored in the nation’s Capitol). What is surprising is that Pope Francis includes in this great tradition of Americans concerned about justice Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. Dorothy Day, who spoke out against the government’s military exploits, yet who also prayed the Divine Office and attended Mass everyday. And Thomas Merton, whose vision of peace and dialogue, is only made possible through his identity as contemplative monk. In both figures, you have fidelity to the Church, a contemplative spirit, and a desire to work toward solidarity among the human family.

In this subtle way, Pope Francis has reminded Congress that openness to God is intimately linked to love of the poor. He does not say the word secularization but as holding up two Catholic figures as “icons” of American concern about dignity, he is offering a subtle argument that people of faith are necessary for the flourishing of the common good. In the speech itself, he goes as far as to say precisely this:

The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.

In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.

In this way, Pope Francis is taking up the topic of religious liberty without saying the word at all. If Catholics are marginalized because of their annoying habit of believing in the existence of a God who calls us out into concrete practice in the world, then the political sphere will lose a valuable resource for the promotion of human dignity. If Catholics are forced to practice a religious faith that does not lead to the establishment of schools, of hospitals, of those concrete ways that Catholics live out caritas, then it will be the United States itself that will be poorer for it. The subtle implication of Pope Francis’ speech is that you won’t simply be absent a Thomas Merton or Dorothy Day if you eliminate institutional religious life from the public sphere. You should also bid adieu to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln too.

The Interruption of the Unborn

A number of Catholics are disappointed that Pope Francis didn’t more directly take up the issue of abortion. He stated:

Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).

This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

The single line referring to abortion is ultimately intended to be more powerful insofar as it serves as an interruption to the line of thought. Without doubt, many of those in Congress were nodding their heads as Pope Francis reminded the United States of their responsibility to care for the immigrant; they were thinking to themselves of the idiocy (perhaps) of Donald Trump, looking forward to quoting this line to him in some interview soon. Then, the Gospel was proclaimed: the yardstick we use for others will be the one used against us; and this yardstick necessitates the protection of human life, beginning at conception.

Here, Catholics are given a kind of grammar for what constitutes effective evangelization in public life. What does your interlocutor agree with you on? Begin there, and then move toward the source of disagreement. And Catholics can do this, because it’s not just the unborn child, who experiences the injustice of a world that too often has grown cold to love. It is the prisoner condemned to death, it is the immigrant despised and maltreated by fellow human beings, it is the nation-state treated as other, it is the young woman or man who sees their life reduced to their status as income earner. In this way, Pope Francis is proposing a new way forward relative to proclaiming the Gospel of Law in a culture that has grown cold to human flourishing at all stages. He sees, the problems with this culture, as he describes in his address to the bishops:

The innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature – at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters. It is wrong, then, to look the other way or to remain silent. No less important is the Gospel of the Family, which in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia I will emphatically proclaim together with you and the entire Church.

The way forward is not to condemn those who disagree with you but to invite the other into a dialogue in which the Church proclaims to the world the entire narrative of the Gospel of Life at the heart of her existence. To present the fullness of truth as a source of beauty and good, which may in fact lead to conversions that we never thought possible.


Pope Francis will say a great deal more over the coming days. And each of these speeches will need to be analyzed in a way similar to what I have offered here. Such analysis will require a great deal of care, attentive to the rhetorically sweet speech of Pope Francis. Only with this attention to his speech will the full effect of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States bear fruit.

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Pope Francis, Meet George F. Will

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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In a recent “opinion piece” (emphasis on opinion) in the Washington Post, George F. Will writes:

Francis’s fact-free flamboyance reduces him to a shepherd whose selectively reverent flock, genuflecting only at green altars, is tiny relative to the publicity it receives from media otherwise disdainful of his church. Secular people with anti-Catholic agendas drain his prestige, a dwindling asset, into promotion of policies inimical to the most vulnerable people and unrelated to what once was the papacy’s very different salvific mission.

He stands against modernity, rationality, science and, ultimately, the spontaneous creativity of open societies in which people and their desires are not problems but precious resources. Americans cannot simultaneously honor him and celebrate their nation’s premises.

Mr. Will, seemingly avoiding the work of both reading the writings of Pope Francis and using some semblance of reason, is entirely wrong about the way that most Catholics perceive the visit of Pope Francis to these shores. You see when the Pope visits the United States, he comes as the universal pastor of the Church. These moments are occasions for a kind of spiritual festivity among Catholics, who in fact, do not view Pope Francis as simply genuflecting to “green altars.” Rather, those of us active in our parishes are aware that he comes to speak to us as pastor of the Church, whose words are often difficult to hear because they accuse us of failing to love (we call this sin, Mr. Will). As John Cavadini has written in the New York Daily News:

Everyone tends to blank out the sayings that are uncomfortable to them, the conservatives believing that the warnings against trickle-down economics and his confidence in theories of global warming are outside the Pope’s competence, the liberals deciding that the Pope’s stance on life issues and issues of human sexuality are idiosyncratic holdovers from an anthropology outdated long ago. No harm, no foul, we can all take up only what leaves our comfort zone intact, and selectively use what we can to advance our own positions.

But most uncomfortable of all may well be Pope Francis’s conviction that these issues are all interrelated. That a culture which has learned to subordinate life to its own comfort zone will never have the moral courage to subordinate profit to human dignity, will never make the sacrifices necessary to reverse the spread of a “disposable” culture which not only exploits but excludes, which produces as a matter of routine human “leftovers,” the outcast, the “discarded,” used and then disposed of.

You see, Mr. Will is unable to listen to Pope Francis because he refuses to acknowledge the possibility that he (and in fact all of us) is in some way responsible for the dimming of truth, goodness, and love in the world. That the problem at the very origins of what it means to be human is the sin of idolatry, of adoring everything in the end but God. Mr. Will exhibits his own commitment to the art of idolatry, setting up his particular altar around some idealized view of the economy, of technological development, and science. That Pope Francis is not entirely optimistic about the modern world simply aligns him with decent Catholic theology, which recognizes that human beings can change. Which means that there is something about us that needs to be changed in the first place. It also aligns him with early American views of political life as recognizing the sin at the heart of being human. Fasting days were not reserved for Maryland Catholics; they were part of the political activity of that great Congregationalist bastion, Massachusetts. I suppose that both Jonathan Edwards and John Cotton equally cannot be honored, without compromising the premises of the United States.

Because the present Pontiff makes us uncomfortable in his preaching of the Gospel, there are those who like George F. Will are unable to listen to him. They do not want to participate in the process of self-examination, which the Holy Father calls us to in his preaching and his writing. The Pope’s visit to the United States, an apostolic visit of a pastor to his sheep, is intended to call us toward a deeper solidarity rooted in love of Jesus Christ, who is the Word made flesh. As Pope Francis himself writes in Laudato Si:

Moreover, when our hearts are authentically open to universal communion, this sense of fraternity excludes nothing and no one. It follows that our indifference or cruelty towards fellow creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings. We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people. Every act of cruelty towards any creature is “contrary to human dignity”. We can hardly consider ourselves to be fully loving if we disregard any aspect of reality: “Peace, justice and the preservation of creation are three absolutely interconnected themes, which cannot be separated and treated individually without once again falling into reductionism”. Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.

In reality, there will be many like Mr. Will, who will remain tone deaf to the invitation toward self-examination that this week (and the entire Pontificate of Pope Francis) promises. They may only hear part of what Pope Francis says, the part that they like. There are clergy and politicians and television commentators and journalists, who will seek to use the Pope’s visit for their own particular ends. This should not be surprising to those of us aware of the smallness of the human heart. Yet, there will also be those, hopefully including myself, who hear the Pope’s words as an invitation toward a more authentic form of love of God and neighbor alike.

In the end, perhaps it’s not the Pope who exhibits such fact-free flamboyance. Perhaps, it is Mr. Will himself, who refuses to look realistically upon the human condition, constructing for himself and his readers an economy and body politic without sin.

I’ll go with Pope Francis on this one.

The Mission of the Center for Liturgy

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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At the beginning of the academic year, the Center for Liturgy often finds itself in the midst of re-articulating the vision that animates our work. We are a Center at the heart of the University of Notre Dame’s Catholic mission; one that renews the Church through liturgical scholarship and education. We publish material on this blog and in a nationally recognized journal, we hold conferences and host guest lecturers, and we teach courses to undergraduates and graduate students at our University. In the coming months, we’ll be talking about an expansion in our summer offerings related to Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, working with Newman Centers, and more.

Yet, the articulation of a mission includes far more than the activity that we perform on a yearly basis. Over the last five years in which I have served as director of the Center for Liturgy, we have listened to those involved in liturgical and catechetical ministry in the Church. We have held conversations with undergraduates and graduate students about the state of liturgical education in the United States. We have met with other universities engaged in the mission of liturgical formation according to their own unique charism.

We have come to the conclusion that the liturgical renewal promised by the Second Vatican Council is, well, unfulfilled. Too often this unfulfilled vision becomes an occasion to blame others.

  • It is the fault of liturgists, who treated the rites as their own plaything.
  • It is the fault of catechists, who never really taught the fullness of what the liturgical and sacramental life consists of.
  • It is the fault of the hierarchy, who hold on at all costs to a clerical approach to liturgical celebration and formation.
  • It is the faulty of the laity, who seem too apathetic about their own liturgical vocation.

While such blame is often cathartic, offering an easy solution to the renewal of the liturgical life of the Church (get rid of those at fault), these blame games seem to ignore that the Second Vatican Council presented a vision of liturgical prayer as so important to the life of the Church that it should not be surprising that there is work that remains. Further, the very moment in which the Church recognized the liturgy as central to her identity was also the precise moment in which modern, secular approaches to being and knowing alike won out over theological accounts of what it means to be a human being in the world.
BlameThe problem with much liturgical renewal today is that it ignores the difficult task of liturgical formation. National liturgical gatherings continue to repeat the same tired phrases again and again, ignoring the fact that these phrases are often meaningless to the modern person. Full, conscious, and active participation is a desired goal. But, what about the fact that it seems more and more Catholics choose not to be present in the first place?

The Center for Liturgy, thus, believes that a renewal of liturgical formation is necessary under the rubric of the New Evangelization. That the goal of liturgical renewal is not ultimately oriented toward better liturgies alone (though this should also take place). Rather, it is to make possible an encounter with Jesus Christ through the liturgical rites; an encounter that ultimately transforms what it means to be human. The purpose of liturgical prayer is thus the formation of a way of life, a disposition of gratitude that is the source of meaning of human life. As Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium:

The disciple is ready to put his or her whole life on the line, even to accepting martyrdom, in bearing witness to Jesus Christ, yet the goal is not to make enemies but to see God’s word accepted and its capacity for liberation and renewal revealed. Finally an evangelizing community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always. It celebrates every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelization. Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy, as part of our daily concern to spread goodness. The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving (no. 24)

In other words, the mission of the Center for Liturgy is what one becomes through the practice of liturgical prayer; the kind of life that one lives through learning to praise and adore the living God.

The Center for Liturgy at Notre Dame is thus oriented toward creating educational opportunities that renew the Church in this way of life. There is something “lay” about our approach insofar as we see liturgical prayer less about who gets to do what during the liturgy; and more about the renewal of politics, culture, and family life.

For this reason, the Center for Liturgy focuses our undivided attention on the kind of imagination that the liturgy forms us in. The imagination is the human faculty that enables us to make meaning in the world. It allows us to see a simple activity as getting up in the middle of the night to care for a sick child as a Eucharistic offering. It is that faculty that forms us to see our work in the world as a similar offering. It is the faculty that transforms two people living together as married into an image of Christ’s self-giving love of the Church in the sacrament of marriage. Our educational programming is concerned about fostering this kind of imagination not simply through the liturgy but through the work of catechesis, of theological education, and a style of research that takes seriously the lay experience of liturgical prayer. Of the union between liturgy and politics, justice, spirituality, our relationship with the environment, ethics, vocation. Of discerning those cultural obstacles that make liturgical participation difficult in the modern world and then promoting the kind of “liturgical ecology” that holds up human life as gift.

This is the work that inspires us on a regular basis. It is the mission that will continue to infuse our programming. We are not a Center that plans on gathering people because they want to prepare for the new liturgical reform (or the reform of the reform of the reform). We see value in these conversations. But they are not ours.

Our mission, is taken directly from Pope Francis’ own address to theologians:

A theology – and not simply a pastoral theology – which is in dialogue with other sciences and human experiences is most important for our discernment on how best to bring the Gospel message to different cultural contexts and groups. The Church, in her commitment to evangelization, appreciates and encourages the charism of theologians and their scholarly efforts to advance dialogue with the world of cultures and sciences. I call on theologians to carry out this service as part of the Church’s saving mission. In doing so, however, they must always remember that the Church and theology exist to evangelize, and not be content with a desk-bound theology (no. 133).

Ours is not a desk-bound theology. It is a theology that seeks to renew the liturgical life of the Church so that the entire cosmos might experience the transformation of love made possible through the Christian vision of existence. We think this involves a renewal of preaching, of music, of aesthetics, of catechesis, and spirituality. This is the mission of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy moving toward into its fifth decade of existence.

We hope that you’ll join us in our work.

The View of an Outsider

Molly DailyMolly Daily, ND ’14

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

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I have been the “odd one out” since my graduation from the University of Notre Dame, in widely varying situations. For the first year after my graduation, I worked in the Office of the Illinois Governor. There, I was the baby – the youngest person by far, minus maybe one person, and one of very few people in the office who came in straight from graduation. And interestingly enough, though I worked for six months under a Democratic administration and six months under a Republican one, I was one of a handful of practicing Catholics. While at the Governor’s Office, I learned to see my experience through the realm of being the different one – the token Catholic girl, the baby of the office.

WashingtonUniversityNewmanThough I left the Governor’s Office in July, I have once again found myself in that position – the one who answers the questions; the one whose experience is not the same. Working as a Campus Ministry Intern at Washington University and Webster University means I am surrounded by young people, Catholics, people like me. And yet once again, I am different. After all, my students have yet to go into the “real world” and hold a full-time job. Even among my work colleagues, I’m the only one who has worked in politics. And so, again, I find myself on the outside.

I could take this begrudgingly and complain that I just want to be with people who understand me, but I am far too lucky and surrounded by far too many wonderful people for that complaint. Rather, this “outside” living has provided me with a unique theological opportunity, allowing me to see, seek, and explore the needs and wants of college students and young adults, particularly in regards to what the Church can and should offer them. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that I was one of them – I felt their fears, apprehensions, and desires, and then I left and experienced that  which they now look forward. Having left the safety net of a Catholic college, I am removed enough to see what they cannot yet see, to understand life after college in a way that they simply cannot yet – but I have returned, just a year later, and I see myself in them, see what I wanted and thought I needed and truly did need. I am one of them and yet not, and I see the urgency of their questions and their desires perhaps even more clearly because of it.

SantaRosaIt strikes me that what these students crave – indeed, what I myself craved – is, for the most part, exactly what they are going to need. They may not understand why they want what they want in the church, but the Spirit moves them to demand that which they will need most when they leave this place. My students demand more than lukewarm religion teachers and emotionally-centered praise sessions of their high school years. They see right through the façade of uncaring adults who blow them off with half-hearted attempts to appease them or make church “cool” so they will want to leave. My students crave truth – they are smarter, more perceptive, more driven than we give them credit for. In universities filled with study and argument, they demand truth – they know the faith is intellectual in nature, and they want to understand and articulate that intellect just as they would any other course they take – though here, the stakes are much higher. What they don’t yet understand is how important that knowledge and truth will be when they leave – how the ability to constantly remind themselves of the truth, to articulate their faith to those who challenge it, and to apply that knowledge when weekly bible studies and student-centered homilies now abound. They crave – and need – us to take their thirst for knowledge seriously, to value it, and to encourage it to continue for the rest of their lives.

A perhaps less articulated need for students, and much less explored, is the parish identity and the simple process of finding – and staying with – a parish. This was one of the needs I hardly recognized in myself as a student, and one I only see in my students in passing. They mention their concern about leaving the Catholic Student Center, or they casually say that they know no other church will be like this place. What they don’t yet know is how valuable it will be to process these needs, to understand parish life before they leave. This need didn’t strike me until I was well established in a parish in Chicago. I had a wonderful home with a vibrant, young parish in my neighborhood, but I was struck one evening while attending a young adult event by a very striking, unsettling knowledge – “This isn’t my parish.” Although I had been attending Mass and events regularly for over six months, I still understood myself as a visitor. I was a registered parishioner, but I hadn’t made connections, outside the young adult group, to become a real part of this place. This process of relationship building, of connection is one that is taken for granted in college, and one we hardly mention to our students. We don’t talk to them enough about what happens when they leave – and chances are they don’t even think about it until it’s too late. We owe them our knowledge and our experience.

I’m still not too far out, and I’ve only been at my new job for a month – but so far, I’d say being an outsider has its advantages.

Preaching on Contemporary Events

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Twice in the recent year, theologians and social media friends have been atwitter (pun intentional) over the lack of reference to contemporary events in the Sunday Homily. The first time was the shooting of Freddie Gray by police in Baltimore. The second (and more recent) is the reality of abortion exposed by the Planned Parenthood videos. In both instances, there has been a keen sense that the Church’s preaching failed to address those contemporary events, which are front and center in the minds of the faithful.


In one sense, the lack of addressing said contemporary events in the homily is a “sort of” positive. The Sunday homily is ultimately not an occasion to update the assembly about the news of the world. It is a liturgical act in which the assembly is invited to encounter Christ made manifest in the Scriptures, even now dwelling among us. If those who want the homily to address contemporary events desire preaching in which the priest only tangentially deals with the Gospel, the readings, or the liturgical texts of the day, then there is a problem.

On the other hand, the dearth of preaching upon contemporary life in the world is simply evidence that we have failed to form our homilists in a theological and existential approach to Scriptural exegesis. What we have instead is a form of preaching that is really a series of pious maxims that the homilist holds dear; maxims that won’t too deeply transform the day-to-day lives of the assembly. It is the preaching of what my colleague, Christian Smith, calls Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (with a strong emphasis here on the therapy). As I wrote in Liturgy and the New Evangelization: Practicing the Art of Self-Giving Love:

If Christian preaching is to be effective, transformative of the human condition, then it must deal with those universal themes that are at the heart of being human. Such a claim may seem trite. But too often the great hopes of human life, the deepest sorrows of our condition, remain unaddressed in homilies. Marriages commence and end without a word from the homilist about the delights and perils of human love.  Adolescents suffer from eating disorders, false images of what constitutes beauty in the first place, without the homilist exhorting us to perceive a form of beauty manifested on the cross. Young couples with children struggle with the pressures and loneliness that too often come with living in suburbia, with expectations to achieve success and wealth, without the homilist providing a more firm hope to believe in. Within each of our communities are the poor, those who have no support system, no way to provide for their children. The presence of the poor, the suffering, the sorrowing are often neglected in homilies, which frequently become panegyrics dedicated to upper middle class family life. The hopes and desires of the world are present in each assembly, yet rarely does the homilist address these in a substantial way. The consequence of such preaching is that our lives, the fullness of what constitutes our humanity, have nothing to do with the eucharistic rites of the church. They are left at the door of our parish, as we escape either into entertaining vignettes of the local prelate’s recent vacation or moralistic exhortations to become better people according to the minimalistic vision of Catholic faith offered by the homilist (66)

That is, it is the Scriptures and the liturgical rites themselves that enable us to address the contemporary world. These last Sundays, we have begun to move through the Bread of Life discourse in the Gospel of John. The opportunity to preach on all that takes away life are manifest during these weeks. Because if Jesus is in fact the bread of life, that means that we need this bread. The world in which we live in feeds us with a different bread–a death-dealing feast. A world in which we are too often guests at a banquet of violence, of self-interest, of the powerful who will eliminate those who have no power. For this reason, we need to receive that Bread of Life that forms us to see anew that the only way to have life is to give up our lives. To stand up for those who are most defenseless: the unborn, the immigrant, the criminal condemned to death–all those on the margins of the world. And when we receive the Eucharist at each Mass, we commit ourselves to this way of living, to become hosts of this banquet of life for the world.

In the end, the problem of preaching is not simply that it fails to address contemporary events. Rather, homilies often have so little to do with the realities of the world, of a particular community, that they are nothing but pious reflections upon a Gospel that has no power to transform what it means to be human. The problem here is not simply that priests and deacons don’t know how to address the contemporary world. Rather, it seems that they’re not aware that the Gospel is meant to encounter every aspect of culture, every aspect of what it means to be human. And through this encounter that the transformation of the world is to unfold.

In other words, lack of specificity, lack of attention to contemporary life, implicitly proclaims to the world that the Gospel is meant to remain in the safety of our Sunday sanctuaries. Not to be spread to all the corners of the world.