Category Archives: Pope Francis

Living Advent in the Light of Laudato Si’






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

University of Notre Dame

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

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

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

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

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

Caring for our relationship with God

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

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

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

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

Caring for others

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

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

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

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

Caring for creation

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

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

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

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

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

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


Practicing Mercy

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

Contact Author

For those of a certain generation, the word mercy will forever conjure the image of a leather-clad, feather-haired Uncle Jesse, exclaiming, “Have mercy.” If not, you can watch a 2-two minute summary here.

Somehow, I don’t think this is what Pope Francis had in mind when he declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy, set to begin tomorrow on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. In the papal bull announcing the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Misericordiae Vultus, Francis writes:

Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. . . . Whoever sees Jesus sees the Father (cf. Jn 14:9). Jesus of Nazareth, by his words, his actions, and his entire person reveals the mercy of God. We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness (§§1–2).

In some ways the declaration of a year of mercy seems hopelessly inadequate. The pragmatist in me scoffs at mercy. Mercy is too dangerous; it is too costly.  In world beset by violence and terrorism, where it seems all the news is bad news—bombings, shootings, kidnappings, natural disasters—mercy seems, well, not quite up to the task. Mercy seems reckless and imprudent. When things are better, when the world is safer, then it will be time for mercy. For now, mercy can wait.

But mercy doesn’t wait. It runs out into the danger; it bears the cost. Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium anticipates Misericordiae Vultus. Francis avers that Christ, the sacrament of salvation, is God’s work of mercy (cf. EG, §112). God’s mercy comes out to meet us, while we bear the weight of sin. God doesn’t wait for things to get better, for the world to be safer before sending his beloved Son. God enters into the quagmire most imprudently as an infant needing a home—as a helplessly needy, nearly blind infant. The eternal Word becomes speechless. The one through whom the entire cosmos is created and sustained in being is now hidden. Mercy is enthroned in the obscurity of the manger.

The recklessness of God! In The Portal to the Mystery of Hope, French poet Charles Péguy captures the audacity of divine mercy:

Terrible love, terrible charity,
Terrible hope, truly terrible responsibility,portal

The Creator has need of his creature, put himself in need of his creature.
And can’t do anything without it.
A king who has abdicated into the hands of each of his subjects
Merely absolute power.
God needs us, God needs his creature.
. . .
What rashness. What confidence.
Well or misplaced confidence, that all depends on us.
What hope, what obstinacy, what one-sidedness, what incurable strength of hope. (84–85)

God places himself in our hands. In his reckless and inefficient mercy, God hopes in us. We are called to show mercy because mercy has been shown to us in the person of Christ Jesus (cf. MV, §9). As an expression of the God who is love, mercy is always personal. It resides in the immaculate womb of Mary. Mercy heals the sick and forgives sinners. Mercy flows from Christ’s open side. Mercy welcomes the prodigal son home; mercy searches for the lost sheep; mercy endures for our sake. In the flesh of love, Christ’s flesh, mercy comes into the world to embrace, heal, weep, pray, and delight with us.

Mercy is never abstract. It is a practice of love, and like all practices, it is concretized by doing something somewhere. It takes place in the michelangelo_caravaggio_30_the_seven_works_of_mercyshadows, on the peripheries, and in the mundane realities of daily life. Yet in its hiddenness, mercy is the antidote to despair; it is the work of hope which remains “impossible to extinguish; as that little flame in the sanctuary” (Péguy, 7). Mercy is a form of life that flows from the pierced side of Christ. It is a form of life that puts us at the disposal of another. By practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy— feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving drink to the thirsty, sheltering the stranger, visiting the sick, visiting the imprisoned, burying the dead; instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, admonishing sinners, bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving offenses, comforting the afflicted, praying for the living and the dead—we participate in form of life that renders present the work of mercy in every age.

Waiting and Liturgy: A Story of Papal Disappointment

Rose Urankar

Rose Urankar, ’16

Theology and American Studies

Undergraduate Fellow, Center for Liturgy

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

This is the sight that greeted us:

papal lines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Conversation between Pope Francis and John Dunne, C.S.C.

unnamedThomas Eggleston, M.Div. ’12 

Pastoral Associate, Our Lady of the Lake and St. Francis de Sales Catholic parishes

Holland, MI

I have Fr. John S. Dunne, C.S.C. on my mind. It may be because we are approaching the second anniversary of his death and I miss his presence in the world. But it is also certainly because of Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home. Throughout the encyclical the Pope makes connections, speaking of retreat and return to another way of living; he draws circles of connection. Circles: that is something that was seemingly always on the mind of Professor Dunne.

John S. Dunne, C.S.C. (1929–2013)
John S. Dunne, C.S.C. (1929–2013)

Fr. John taught and wrote about emanations and returns—a parting and a return. He speaks of the circle of the Word made flesh, which “can be seen coming out of silence and returning into silence, the silence of God. That silence is the same as the surrounding silence” (The Circle Dance of Time, 46) which we all have in ourselves—a center of stillness. The Christ emanates from the silence of God to take on flesh and in doing so reveals that we all have a center of stillness within us—that we are surrounded by the Presence of God and return to the stillness within us to participate in God’s great stillness. In the same manner, Pope Francis looks at the state of humankind with its frenzy and penchant for self-harm, noting that a return to former ways is now needed—the boomerang turn after the emanation curves back again toward the Beginning Stillness. To return to God, the Pope notes, is to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi who “in some way returned to the state of original innocence” (LS, §66) present in Eden before the spiral of emanation began. The operating models given to us by the God-Human too are circular—Christ emanates from the Father, redeems humanity, and returns to the original stillness, and humankind who was created for innocence seeks to return to it. This journey of return is both individual and communal; it is being lived out in each human life and also in the course of human history.

This post-emanation yearning for a return to the silence of God plants restlessness in the hearts of each seeking human. Dunne notes that the return to the center of stillness is an interior journey into one’s heart, all the while traveled within the journey of one’s life through time. With God as our companion, we can become friends with that restlessness because it leads us back to the Creator. To “rest in restlessness . . . comes with the ‘Thanks!’ and ‘Yes!’ of being at peace with one’s life” (Circle Dance, 67). This restlessness comes with the certitude of faith that we are creatures bound and ready to return to our loving Creator—that what we are living now is the slow curve of an emanation circling back to its source. The return to the Creator of Love is our destiny! But we don’t return the same as before; rather, we are changed, transformed, transfigured. On the return from our journey of emanation, our path curves back to complete the circle. “Consequently, we can ascend from created things ‘to the greatness of God and to his loving mercy’” (LS, §77). The journey away from stillness eventually curves back and returns, but returns the transformed and divinized human. The starting point of our life journey is a return to the Source of Life, and while that means the closing of a circle, we return changed; the starting and ending points are the same, but the journey of life has transformed the person.

concentricCirclesLife is filled with circles, some of which are aching for completion and others which have had their loose ends joined in peaceful conclusion. As Dunne observed, “There is a circuit or a circulation of knowledge and love, ‘a circle in the acts of the soul,’ Aquinas says, starting with the things of life and going from there to the mind, as we take things in by knowing them, and from there to the heart, as knowing leads to loving, and from there back to the things of life, as we go out to things by loving them” (The Church of the Poor Devil, 135). There are circles upon circles as love leads to love leads to deeper love. “Then the circle goes round again as the loving leads into new knowing and the knowing into new loving” (ibid.). And the loving God exists in the middle of the stillness at the center of the circle while the Christ accompanies us round and round leading us home. The Spirit guides our learning which leads to loving and to new loves and so on, and the learning is ever deeper and ever shining. This is because “the rich deposit of truth which it has received from Jesus Christ continues to reflect on these issues [of life] in fruitful dialogue with changing historical situations. In doing so, it reveals its eternal newness” (LS, §121) as the circle veers one way and deepens and reveals more. The deepening reveals the depth of the Truth which is an old Truth ever new.

Circles are everywhere in life and nature and in the spiritual journey of emanation and return. “There is nothing wiser than a circle . . . There is a great circle of love coming from God and going to God, and wisdom is knowing . . . . It is knowing we are all in love with God, I have come to believe, and the love comes from God and returns to God” (Journey with God in Time, 76). Now we, the living, are mid-journey—we know love and we are returning to Love. “Even now we are journeying towards the sabbath of eternity, the new Jerusalem, towards our common home in heaven” (LS, §243), where love meets Love and rests in its stillness.

Re-Ordering Our Church Politics

Molly DailyMolly Daily, ND ’14

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

Contact Author

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 Rosary in Real Life

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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October is the month of the Rosary, and today we honor the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title Our Lady of the Rosary. At this time of year I always find myself reflecting on the ways in which praying the Rosary (and not praying the Rosary) has shaped my life of faith, and inevitably, my mind returns to my childhood days of praying the Rosary with my family.

When I was eight, I was the only girl in a family of four children (there are six of us now). My mom was pregnant with my sister, and my dad was traveling for work pretty much all the time. It’s only with the benefit of hindsight that I realize how chaotic these few years were, and yet I recall them with tender fondness, recognizing them as the years when our family was knitted—soldered together—into an incredibly close unit. It’s only with the benefit of theological reflection that I realize how much the Rosary was a part of this. When my dad began traveling, my mother began the practice of gathering us children together every night to pray the Rosary as a family. We prayed for my dad’s safe return home each weekend. We prayed for the security of his job. We prayed that our home would be kept safe in his absence. We prayed for the health of our mother and the baby she carried in her womb. We prayed for our extended family. We prayed that we would do well in school and in our extracurricular activities. We prayed that we would all make good friends and that we would learn to be better siblings to each other. In other words, we offered up in our family prayer the heights and depths, the profundities and the mundanities of domestic life, and in praying the Rosary in particular, we placed ourselves under the loving maternal gaze of Mary.

Lest you get the wrong idea about my family, though, let me clarify. Here is a picture of what we decidedly did not look like when we gathered together each night for our family Rosary:

Family Rosary

No photos were ever taken during our nightly prayer gatherings, so let me paint a word picture of what actually transpired each night. First, there was The Great Debate about whose bedroom we would use for prayer. Since the kid whose room it was usually got to lie down in his/her bed while everyone else either knelt on the floor or squeezed onto the bed to sit, this was a crucial part of the process. Naturally, the next step was to figure out who was going to sit/kneel/lie down where. Someone would always snag the extra pillow to kneel on and there would be a brief but intense battle for comfy real estate for one’s knees. Next, we had to determine whose turn it was to hold the cool glow-in-the-dark rosary and who would have to use the not-quite-as-cool rosaries with the non-glowing plastic beads. And all of this usually transpired in a span of 5 action-packed minutes, before we even made the Sign of the Cross.

These are still the coolest.
These are still the coolest.

Inevitably, though, my mother would call us all to order with an “All right, we’re starting!” and begin “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” And we were off. For the next 20-ish minutes, there would be moments of quiet grace and moments of unbridled pandemonium. My mother would recite the opening prayers and the first decade, and then my brothers and I would each be called upon to lead a decade in turn, starting with my oldest brother and moving down through the lineup. Like our behavior during the pre-game action, our recitation of the Rosary itself was usually far from perfect. Without fail, someone would forget which mystery we were on; someone else would say either too many Hail Marys (an unforgivable error) or too few (usually a welcome mistake). Someone’s knee or elbow would encroach on neighboring territory, resulting in a furious yet silent turf war; someone would yawn or sneeze or cough or emit some other bodily noise that would elicit uncontrollable, shoulder-shaking, repressed laughter. Most commonly, we would just get bored and count down the beads until it was all over and we could finally go to sleep.

This is what it’s like to pray the Rosary in a real family, in the real world. It’s messy, it’s chaotic, it’s discombobulated, but it’s also authentic. Real family life is messy, chaotic, and discombobulated, so why would the life of prayer be any different? Prayer is the way in which we lift up our lives to God exactly as they are, not as we would have them be. And by continuing to turn to God even and especially when life it at its most chaotic—when, for example, the sole breadwinner is constantly traveling to provide for his growing family while his wife cares for the children and runs the household—that chaos is infused with meaning and transfigured into the precise way by which that family is drawn closer to God and to one another.

Whether it was prayed while crowded in a darkened bedroom, driving through the Kansas countryside in the family mini-van, gathered in the living room with extended family on occasions of great need, or even before Mass with our parish family on Sundays, the Rosary was a leitmotif that continuously ran throughout life in my parents’ household, and without even realizing it, my siblings and I were being formed in a life of faith that was rooted in and indeed inseparable from daily practice. We were being drawn together as the domestic Church (though we would never have called ourselves that)—a tiny community united around Jesus and Mary that was being immersed and slowly formed in the mysteries of God’s love poured forth in the Incarnation.

In his recent address for the Meeting with Families in Cuba, Pope Francis stated:

The family is a school of humanity, a school which teaches us to open our hearts others’ needs, to be attentive to their lives. When we live together life as a family, we keep our little ways of being selfish in check. . . . No doubt about it: the perfect family does not exist; there are no perfect husbands and wives, perfect parents, perfect children . . . Those families don’t exist. But that does not prevent families from being the answer for the future. God inspires us to love, and love always engages with the persons it loves. Love always engages with the persons it loves. So let us care for our families, true schools for the future. Let us care for our families, true spaces of freedom. Let us care for our families, true centers of humanity.

In praying the Rosary as a family, we were participating in an intensive course of study in this “school of humanity.” We weren’t perfect, our prayer wasn’t perfect, yet we learned to forgive one another’s imperfections and also acknowledge our own. We became better at being a family.

MaryRosary_0Pope Francis’ description of the family as the “school of humanity” resonates with Pope St. John Paul II’s description of the Rosary as the “school of Mary” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, §§1, 14, 43). What better way to learn how to be human than by placing one’s family under the tutelage of the Blessed Mother, who taught her Son how to be a part of his human family? Through the Rosary, we contemplate with wonder and awe the mystery that Jesus experienced life on earth precisely as a member of a family, or as Pope Francis said so beautifully in his recent off-the-cuff remarks at the Festival of Families, “God came into the world in a family.”

I’ll admit it: there are times when I struggle with the Rosary as much as I did when I was eight, probably for the same reasons that many people struggle with it. My mind wanders. I still get bored sometimes with the repetitiveness, even as I try to focus on the mystery at hand. If I attempt the Rosary lying in bed at night, I fall asleep 99% of the time. There have even been phases in my life when I’ve let the practice of daily recitation go by the wayside altogether. And yet, despite the manifold struggles I face with the Rosary, I keep coming back to it. Because every time I pick up my beads, I remember with deep love the many chaotic nights spent in prayer surrounded by my mother and brothers (and my father when he was home). I realize again the truth of the well-worn adage that “the family that prays together, stays together,” a phrase my mother repeated often (usually when we children were secretly griping under our breath about having to pray the Rosary—no perfect families, remember?), and taken up by Pope St. John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae. In this letter, John Paul II encourages families to take up anew this practice of praying the Rosary together:

The Holy Rosary, by age-old tradition, has shown itself particularly effective as a prayer which brings the family together. Individual family members, in turning their eyes towards Jesus, also regain the ability to look one another in the eye, to communicate, to show solidarity, to forgive one another and to see their covenant of love renewed in the Spirit of God.

Many of the problems facing contemporary families, especially in economically developed societies, result from their increasing difficulty in communicating. Families seldom manage to come together, and the rare occasions when they do are often taken up with watching television. To return to the recitation of the family Rosary means filling daily life with very different images, images of the mystery of salvation: the image of the Redeemer, the image of his most Blessed Mother. The family that recites the Rosary together reproduces something of the atmosphere of the household of Nazareth: its members place Jesus at the center, they share his joys and sorrows, they place their needs and their plans in his hands, they draw from him the hope and the strength to go on. (§41)

Having grown up in a family that prayed the Rosary together, I can attest to the truth of this passage and many others like it in John Paul II’s letter. To this day, I share an incredibly close relationship with my parents and siblings, and I firmly believe that the strength of our collective relationship is largely due to the life of prayer that we cultivated together (sometimes willingly, sometimes very unwillingly). The messiness and chaos of family prayer not only makes for vivid and often hilarious memories later in life, but most importantly, it makes for stronger families. If you are blessed with the gift of children, do your family a favor. Tonight, before bedtime, gather together, dust off the rosary beads, and start with just one decade. Embrace the mistakes that will inevitably occur, and persevere through the messiness. Practice this life of prayer, then practice some more, and years from now, through the grace of God and the intercession of Mary, you will see your children’s children immersed and schooled and formed in the same inexhaustible mysteries of God’s unfathomable love that form the very heart of the Rosary.

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.


Follow Carolyn on Twitter: @carolyn_pirtle

Cultivating Practices of Life in a Throw-Away Culture

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

Contact Author

In the ancient Roman world unwanted children—girls, the disabled, those conceived out of wedlock—were abandoned to the elements and wild animals. The practice of infant exposure was a matter of routine in ancient Rome. Though there is historical evidence for the practice of abortion at this time, exposure was the more common way to dispose of an unwanted child. Indeed, we might interpret infant exposure as the ancient version of Western modernity’s widespread practice of abortion. Christians, however, not only rejected the Roman practice of infant exposure, but also rescued children who had been left to die in the city’s outskirts and trash heaps. Indeed, Christian families were easily identified by the presence of multiple female children and disabled children.

We live in a time when it is tempting to adopt a kind of nostalgic amnesia with regard to the past. Faced with the appalling revelation of Planned Parenthood’s horrendous practice of fetal dismemberment and organ harvesting, it is enticing to imagine a piously pristine time, untouched by the disregard for life, which today seems so insidiously pervasive. In every age life has been threatened and it does us little good to imagine that we inhabit a world that is more depraved than the past. What actually sets modernity apart is not the human capacity for holiness or wickedness, but the dramatic scale on which we can both preserve and destroy life. At nearly every point in history, children have been cast out of society, discarded and thrown away. They have endured death, poverty, war, and disease. But we also see that in every age we are called to embrace life, to be concrete signs of witness to the beauty and dignity of the fragile and vulnerable among us.

To be a child is a dangerous thing because childhood resides perilously close to death. It was not until the advent of modern medicine that Western countries began to dissociate childhood and death. This dissociation has a macabre irony: as childbirth became safer and childhood disease rarer, Western countries, under the aegis of autonomy and choice, also began the large-scale practice of abortion.

In many parts of the world, including the United States, children continue to bear the burden of humanity’s failures. They are collateral damage in war and the victims of human trafficking. They bear a disproportionate burden of death from disease, poverty, migration, and persecution. They are disposed of as medical waste, before their first smile, before they gaze into the eyes of their mothers, before they shed a single tear, before they draw a first breath.

In a world where to be small or weak is to reside dangerously close death, the Church dares to proclaim that children are a gift. We dare to say that children are neither reducible to questions of biological reproduction, nor are they one of the many options available to fulfill consumer desire. And we must also dare to take up practices that embody this reality—to open the doors of our hearts and our homes to children.

In the ancient world, Christians rescued children left to die on the dung piles and trash heaps. Today, Christians are called to new forms of hospitality to life, to continue the history of adoption, to provide safe homes of respite for children shuffled around the foster care system, to support struggling families in our neighborhoods and communities, to offer childcare for these families. We are called reach out to women experiencing the confusion and fear of an unplanned pregnancy.

We are called quite simply and quite radically to create communities that make it easier to welcome life. We are called to participate in the transformation of the world, to infuse it with the tenderness of God’s love for the little ones. Such communities require personal sacrifice from every member. We can no longer leave families and individuals to struggle anonymously, claiming, “It is not my responsibility.”

In his Wednesday audiences, Pope Francis has been developing a theology of the family. He has devoted three of these short catecheses on children—more than any other figure or facet of family life. He declares that children fundamentally inhabit the reality of gift. “Children are a gift, they are a gift: understood? Children are a gift” (General Audience, February 11, 2015). He speaks of the tenderness of child, the spontaneity of child, the gift of the child, the generosity that the child calls forth from others.

Yet, to affirm that children are a gift is not to deny that they also elicit a sacrifice. Indeed, children bring consolation and joy, but not without thorns. At the Festival of Families, Francis remarked on sacrifices children call forth.

Children, yes they bring their challenges. And we also are the cause of work and worry. Sometimes at home, I see some of my helpers, they come to work and they look tired. They have a one-month-old baby, and I ask them did you sleep? And they say I couldn’t sleep, Holiness, because they were crying all night. (Festival of Families, September 26, 2015)

Sometimes children cry all night. It is one of the many thorns that pierce parents. Yet in the quiet rhythms of daily life, gestures of hospitality are extended to the family: grandparents who care for grandchildren, friends and neighbors who do not hesitate to comfort a crying child or offer the gift of childcare. These small gestures of love make the challenges of parenting a little easier.

It is dangerous thing these days to say that children are a challenge or that they require sacrifice. We live in a world that has become profoundly adverse to sacrifice. Often I hear people say that if one does not want to bear the burden of a pregnancy, does not want to make the sacrifices a child demands, then it is better that that child never be born. We can never affirm this! In the first instance, children are a gift and sacrifice borne of love.

Yet, when we fail to love, when we fail to cultivate a society that make it is easier to be good, children bear the burden. Thus, Francis has also spoken of the many “passions” children endure in their fragile bodies—neglect, disease, poverty, abortion.

From the first moments of their lives, many children are rejected, abandoned, and robbed of their childhood and future. There are those who dare to say, as if to justify themselves, that it was a mistake to bring these children into the world. This is shameful! Let’s not unload our faults onto the children, please! Children are never a “mistake”. Their hunger is not a mistake, nor is their poverty, their vulnerability, their abandonment — so many children abandoned on the streets — and neither is their ignorance or their helplessness… so many children don’t even know what a school is. If anything, these should be reasons to love them all the more, with greater generosity. How can we make such solemn declarations on human rights and the rights of children, if we then punish children for the errors of adults? (General Audience; Wednesday, April 8, 2015)

In this age, children, along with the elderly, the disabled, and the infirm, have carried the wounds of society’s failures. They are the “victims of the culture of consumerism, the culture of waste, the throwaway culture” (Francis, Sunday Homily, October 4, 2015). Who can forget the photographs of the Syrian toddler, Aylan, lying dead on a Turkish beach? Who can un-see the image of a child’s leg being held up for examination over a pie dish? Adults have the capacity to inflict upon children the most grievous wounds.

We are invited, however, to imagine what society might look like if children were not subjected to the mechanisms of power and the laws of expediency and efficiency.

Think what a society would be like if it decided, once and for all, to establish this principle: “It’s true, we are not perfect and we make many mistakes. But when it comes to the children who come into the world, no sacrifice on the part of adults is too costly or too great, to ensure that no child believe he or she was a mistake, is worthless or is abandoned to a life of wounds and to the arrogance of men.” How beautiful a society like this would be! I say for such a society, much could be forgiven, innumerable errors. (Francis, General Audience; Wednesday, April 8, 2015).

To be sure, such a society requires international, national, and state legislation to ensure that at a bare minimum life is respected and that parents have adequate, meaningful work to support their children, and access to education and affordable childcare. But the society, Francis describes needs more than this. It needs to be animated by the warmth of a smile, the tenderness of an embrace. It needs the little way of love that St. Thérèse learned in the Martin home, noticing the other and caring for the poor and forgotten in their midst. It needs a love that overflows, a love that takes up the small gestures of mercy, gestures “which break with the logic of violence, exploitation, and selfishness” (Laudato Si, §230). A love that makes it safer to be vulnerable and easier to be good.

The Spirit of the Synod on the Family

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

ND ’14, MTS ’16 (History of Christianity)

Managing Editor

 Contact Author

This weekend, Pope Francis delivered his homily inaugurating the October 4-25 Synod on the Family. Predictably, the Synod of Bishops has generated much controversy and polarization over the past year or so, especially when it comes to what the Synod may yield in terms of Church teaching and practice regarding homosexuals and divorced and remarried Catholics. If my Facebook newsfeed and Twitter updates are of any indication, both Left and Right seem to be convinced that this is the sole agenda for the gathering of prelates, and that one side is poised to ‘lose’ on these two topics. The bishops will either vote ‘conservative,’ and uphold policies of ‘discrimination’ toward those who feel marginalized by the church, or they will vote ‘liberal’ – much to the dismay of the right – and announce new policy for the reception of the homosexual and the divorced and remarried.

But what our Holy Father made clear in his homily on the eve of the Synod is that those who enter into this moment in Church history through the lens described above (regardless of if one falls on the Left or the Right) has already missed both the purpose and the nature of the assembly: its purpose is not to create policy but to explore “the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world”;  its nature is not that of a meeting of Congress but of a “moment of grace.”

The Holy Father’s homily serves as a reminder that this Synod should not – nay, cannot – be viewed through the political lens. Its hermeneutic, Francis reminds us, is rather one of love:

“If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 Jn 4.12).

This love, the foundation and telos of the Church’s mission in the world, is multidimensional. Repeating the words of his predecessor, Francis urges:

The Church is called to carry out her mission in truth, which is not changed by passing fads or popular opinions. The truth which protects individuals and humanity as a whole from the temptation of self-centredness and from turning fruitful love into sterile selfishness, faithful union into temporary bonds. “Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love” (Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 3).

At the same time, the Synod will be concerned with how this love can be more effectively presented to the world.

And the Church is called to carry out her mission in charity, not pointing a finger in judgment of others, but – faithful to her nature as a mother – conscious of her duty to seek out and care for hurting couples with the balm of acceptance and mercy; to be a “field hospital” with doors wide open to whoever knocks in search of help and support; even more, to reach out to others with true love, to walk with our fellow men and women who suffer, to include them and guide them to the wellspring of salvation.

This Synod on the family will be concerned with authentic love, and with how the Church can better fulfill its vocation of acting as a bridge in the world: a bridge on which the love of the Creator can pass between both Creator and created. For the Church is not in the world to burn bridges, but to build them. And this act of building bridges is a labor of love. As John Paul II said:

“Error and evil must always be condemned and opposed; but the man who falls or who errs must be understood and loved… we must love our time and help the man of our time” (John Paul II, Address to the Members of Italian Catholic Action, 30 December 1978).

How appropriate that on the eve of the assembly of bishops our Pontifex (literally: “bridge-builder“) captures the spirit of this synod through such a simple but apt image of the Church in the world.

The full text of Pope Francis’ homily can be found on the Vatican’s website.

Follow Tony on Twitter.

The Yardstick of Love: Pope Francis and Particularity

10985020_10155272738505037_4973531099242634026_o-e1441708114247-150x150Rose Urankar

Undergraduate Fellow

ND ‘ 16, Theology and American Studies

Last Thursday at 10am, I was sitting in a theology class.  As a theology major, this was not unusual.  Yet in Washington DC, history was being made as Pope Francis addressed a joint session of Congress and rubbed elbows with some of our nation’s most opinionated politicians.  Thankfully, since I was in a theology class, we were able to watch the event live-streamed on one of my classmates’ computers.

My classmates and I huddled around the computer and watched as Pope Francis humbly addressed our dignitaries in English, albeit with a heavy accent.  As he spoke, we found ourselves imitating the listening style of some of the representatives—sitting on the edges of our seats, listening attentively, and even applauding after our favorite parts.  One snippet garnered particularly raucous applause, as he described the Golden Rule (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.”

Clapping and cheers could probably be heard down the halls of Hayes Healey as we reveled in this profound statement about serving our neighbor.  Surely, Pope Francis had spoken of this kind of compassion before—in fact, most of what he was saying was not completely new to us.  We’ve all heard him spout wisdom about the environment, immigration, peace, the dignity of life, and more in plentiful supply.

Yet amid the joy, my friend leaned over to me and asked with incredulity, “Did he just say yardstick?”

Sifting back through his comments in my head, I realized that yes, Pope Francis just referred to a yardstick while addressing a joint-session of Congress.  The word was almost indistinguishable through his accented English, but he did say “yardstick.”  How funny, I thought.  I barely even understood it.

images-1Perhaps I barely understood Pope Francis because “yardstick” is not a word or concept that would come naturally to a Spanish-speaker.  After all, yardsticks are pretty much only used in America, where the yard, foot, and inch compose the royal family of measurement.  I remember when I learned that American measurements were not the norm for the world.  While examining my grandma’s yardstick, I wondered aloud why they would even bother to put centimeters on a ruler when no one used them.  I was struck dumb when my grandma (or possibly my precocious older sister) informed me otherwise.

Now that I’m a ‘learned scholar,’ I am more comfortable with the metric system and have almost ruled the inches side of my ruler to be obsolete.  But Pope Francis didn’t use the metric system when he gave his joint address to Congress.  He used a yardstick, the tool of measurement familiar to the average American.  He didn’t use kilometers and expect us to figure out what he meant—he came to us and spoke to us in a way we would understand.

Sure, some of Pope Francis’s speeches this weekend held themes similar to ones he’s given in countries all around the world, themes like love, mercy, and peace.  Yet Pope Francis took those themes and applied them to the American experience in ways that are particular to us.  He encouraged us to love our neighbor, including people who are foreign-born.  He modeled mercy by visiting the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility.  He preached peace while advocating an end to the death penalty.

His actions were not ethereal, inaccessible niceties—everything he did was tangible and intentional.  He came here not just to visit the U.S., but to visit us, his children, and address our particular needs.

May Pope Francis’s love and particularity, modeled on Christ’s, be a kind of ‘yardstick’ by which we measure our own love.