Category Archives: Scripture

365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Day 3

ChristinaRossettiEditors’ Note: Christina Rossetti wrote a devotional entitled Annus Domini: A Prayer for the Days of the Year, Founded on a Text of Holy Scripture (1874). We will be featuring one of her prayers for the next 365 days. 

Day 3

Genesis 26:24

The Lord appeared unto him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee.


O Lord Jesus Christ, God of Abraham, Who of stones canst raise up unto him children, give us, I entreat Thee, hearts of flesh instead of hearts of stone; and make us partakers of his faith, that we may be numbered among his children in the true Israel.

 

365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Day 2

ChristinaRossettiEditors’ Note: Christina Rossetti wrote a devotional entitled Annus Domini: A Prayer for the Days of the Year, Founded on a Text of Holy Scripture (1874). We will be featuring one of her prayers for the next 365 days. 

Day 2

Genesis 15:1

I am thy Shield, and thy exceeding great Reward.


 

O Lord Jesus Christ, our exceeding great Reward, make, I pray Thee, earth and her treasures exceedingly small in our eyes: that we may long for Thee most of all, and labour to obtain Thee first of all, and that where Thou art there may also Thy servants be. Amen.

 

On Martyrs and Marchers

Ann AstellSr. Ann Astell

Professor, Notre Dame Department of Theology

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Editorial Note: This post was originally delivered as a homily during Vespers on Wednesday, January 20. We are grateful for the author’s permission to publish it here.

Brothers and sisters, in your relations with one another,
clothe yourselves with humility,
because God “is stern with the arrogant
but to the humble he shows kindness.”
Bow humbly before God’s mighty hand,
so that in due time he may lift you high.

Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you.

Stay sober and alert.
Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion
looking for someone to devour.
Resist him, solid in your faith,
realizing that the brotherhood of believers
is undergoing the same sufferings throughout the world.

The God of all grace,
who called you to his everlasting glory in Christ,
will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish
those who have suffered a little while.
Dominion be his throughout the ages! Amen.
(1 Peter 5:5b–11)

Today is the feast of a martyr, St. Sebastian, who gave his life for Christ in the third century, under the emperor Diocletian. Christian art depicts Sebastian as an alter Christus, muscular, young, bound naked to a post, his body shot full of arrows, as Jesus was nailed to his Cross. The epistle of Peter speaks to Sebastian and to all the martyrs. It rings in their ears: “Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith, realizing that the brotherhood of believers is undergoing the same sufferings throughout the world” (1 Pet 5:–9). A prowling lion! During the reigns of Nero and Diocletian, Christians were literally fed to lions.

Throughout the centuries, however, the epistle’s exhortation sounds in the present tense. When has the age of martyrs ever ended? To Blessed Basil Moreau, C.S.C., who died on January 20, 1873, and whose feast we also observe today—to him too came the call to martyrdom! A martyrdom suffered not with a pagan emperor’s arrows and not through violent death, but through the suppression of the Church in a fiercely laical France. Facing that hostility and the countless challenges that were his as a founder, he looked to the Cross as his—and our—only hope.

We celebrate these Vespers on the eve of the departure of Notre Dame students and faculty who will be traveling to Washington, D.C. to bear witness to the sanctity of human life in the midst of a culture of death. They will end their march at the steps leading up to the Supreme Court Building, where the Roe v. Wade decision was made in 1973, and where an important case with regard to religious liberty and health care is currently being considered. To the Little Sisters of the Poor, their legal defenders, and their co-litigants, the call to martyrdom has also come. Staying “sober and alert,” they have “cast all their care” on the Lord who cares for them, trusting that he “will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish those who have suffered a little while” (1 Pet 5:7–8, 10).

According to the epistle we have just heard, Christians undergoing persecution and trial can draw strength from the knowledge that they do not suffer alone, that “the brotherhood of believers is undergoing the same sufferings throughout the world” (1 Pet 5:9). In our day, “throughout the world” brings to mind a litany of place names: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan, India, China, the Sudan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Burundi, Mexico, Brazil, refugee camps in Europe. Everywhere the lion prowls. And everywhere brave souls continue to love, to hope, to confess Christ, to bow humbly beneath the cross, terrible and triumphant, that conforms the Christian to Christ. Ave Crux, Spes Unica!

On this day, January 20, in 1942, Servant of God Joseph Kentenich (1885–1968), a Pallottine priest and the founder of Schoenstatt, celebrated Holy Mass in his prison cell. Soon to be sent to Dachau, where he was to suffer for three and a half years, Fr. Kentenich freely laid down his life in union with Christ during that Eucharist, celebrated alone and in secret, but in spiritual union with his followers, some of whom were already prisoners in the concentration camp. “The brotherhood of believers” (1 Pet 5:9)! Fr. Kentenich’s risk-taking, his trusting “yes” to the Cross, expressed his deep faith in Christ, but also in the mystical body of Christ, the communion of saints. “What I do, what I suffer, how I love, affects others,” he wrote.

Let us live our lives, day by day, in a greater consciousness of our responsibility for one another, in solidarity with the martyrs who suffer not only for Christ but, in Christ, for us.

St. Sebastian, Blessed Basil Moreau, pray for us.

365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Day 1

ChristinaRossettiEditors’ Note: Christina Rossetti wrote a devotional entitled Annus Domini: A Prayer for the Days of the Year, Founded on a Text of Holy Scripture (1874). We will be featuring one of her prayers for the next 365 days. 

Day 1

Genesis 3:15

I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her Seed; It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel.


O Lord Jesus Christ, Seed of the woman, Thou Who hast bruised the serpent’s head, destroy in us, I entreat Thee, the power of that old serpent the devil. Give us courage to resist him, strength to overcome him; deliver the prey from between his teeth, bid his captives go free; for his kingdom, set up Thy kingdom; and for the death he brought in, bring Thou in life everlasting. Amen.

365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Introduction

ChristinaRossetti

Editors’ Note: Christina Rossetti wrote a devotional entitled Annus Domini: A Prayer for the Days of the Year, Founded on a Text of Holy Scripture (1874). We will be featuring one of her prayers for the next 365 days. Today, we begin with the opening poem in her corpus. 

Opening Poem

Alas my Lord,/How should I wrestle all the livelong night/With Thee my God, my Strength and my Delight?

How can it need/So agonized an effort and a strain/To make Thy Face of Mercy shine again?

How can it need/Such wringing out of breathless prayer to move/Thee to Thy wonted Love, when Thou art Love?

Yet Abraham/So hung about Thine Arm outstretched and bared,/That for ten righteous Sodom had been spared.

Yet Jacob did/So hold Thee by the clenched hand of prayer/That he prevailed, and Thou didst bless him there.

Elias prayed,/And sealed the founts of Heaven; he prayed again/And lo, Thy Blessing fell in showers of rain.

All Nineveh/Fasting and girt in sackcloth raised a cry,/Which moved Thee ere the day of grace went by.

Thy Church prayed on/And on for blessed Peter in his strait,/Till opening of its own accord the gate.

Yea, Thou my God/Hast prayed all night, and in the garden prayed/Even while, like melting wax, Thy strength was made.

Alas for him/Who faints, despite Thy Pattern, King of Saints:/Alas, alas, for me, the one that faints.

Lord, give us strength/To hold Thee fast, until we hear Thy Voice/Which Thine own know, who hearing It rejoice.

Lord, give us strength/To hold Thee fast until we see Thy Face,/Full Fountain of all Rapture and all Grace.

But when our strength/Shall be made weakness, and our bodies clay,/Hold Thou us fast, and give us sleep till day.

 

Musical Mystagogy: Singing the Incarnation

Carolyn Pirtle

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Alleluia.

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.

Alleluia!

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.

“Stop Passing Judgment”

Colleen Moore

Director, Echo

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Editorial Note: This post was originally delivered as a homily during Vespers on Wednesday, December 2. We are grateful for the author’s permission to publish it here.

Brothers and sisters,
Stop passing judgment before the time of the Lord’s return.
He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness
and manifest the intentions of hearts.
At that time, everyone will receive his praise from God.
(1 Corinthians 4:5)

My father, whose death anniversary is tomorrow, gathered often with friends and colleagues to discuss University politics and national and international goings-on. I was privy to many such sessions and noticed that while the topics often changed, the script often didn’t. Routinely the conversation would identify a potential antagonist about whom one of my dad’s friends would say, “He’s a complete jerk” (or perhaps he’d employ a more colorful term), to which my dad would typically respond, “Not complete.”

It wasn’t as if my dad didn’t agree with the judgment being passed, but his habitual response for which he became known among his friends recognized the difference between his own limited judgment and God’s ultimate judgment.

Elsewhere in Paul’s letters we hear of the importance of making prudent judgments, especially of those within our own Christian community, and of ourselves and our own behavior. But in this passage, Paul reminds us that there is much we cannot see and know, not only about others but also about ourselves and the intentions of our own hearts. Paul says of himself, “I will not even be the judge of my own self. It’s true that my conscience does not reproach me but that is not enough to justify me: it is the Lord who is my judge” (1 Cor 4:3–4).

The final judgment, then, does not belong to us. Instead, as Paul says in the lines preceding the passage we read this evening, “We belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God.” Not only are our premature and final judgments not ours to make but our need to calculate our worthiness against the worthiness of others is dissolved by our belonging to Christ, through whom we have already inherited everything. Our task then, it seems, is much more than just avoiding passing judgment before the Lord’s return; it is to practice belonging to Christ.

There is much said in Advent of waiting in hopeful anticipation for the first coming of Jesus and of the second coming of Christ. We carefully ready our homes, our altars, our hearts to take in God who in his mercy has come to be with us.

Preparation is not foreign to us. As students and professionals we prepare for class, conferences, and important meetings weekly. But it strikes me that in Advent we should not so much be preparing for things to go smoothly or as planned, as we have grown accustomed to doing. In welcoming the gift of the Incarnation and the second coming of Christ, we are preparing ourselves to be overcome, overtaken, utterly overwhelmed by God. We are preparing to be completely undone in a way and to be given ourselves in a truer form than we have previously known.

If St. Joseph County was anticipating being overwhelmed by a wind storm, we would no doubt be alerted by text, phone, and email by ND Alert, and would prepare for its coming as I prepare for my young nieces to visit: by putting everything away, securing our belongings, battening down the hatches so that as much would remain in place and intact as possible. In contrast, preparing for the coming of Christ looks more like taking everything out of storage and laying it out to be exposed, dismantled, and reordered; preparing ourselves to be taken in, taken up, moved, perhaps even to fly.

I recently saw a story about a man who parasail skis, meaning he alternately parasails and skis depending on the terrain as he flies down the mountain. Then he releases his parasail to ski off a cliff, and then releases his skis as he free-falls in a winged suit for several minutes before hopefully pulling a parachute to land. The interviewer asked him, “How do you physically prepare for something like this?” He said, “Your whole life really, not just your physical training, has to be about replacing the instinct to cling to your chute and skis with the instinct to release them.”

As we prepare our homes and hearts to receive Christ and our family and friends this Advent, let our waiting and preparation be marked by release . . . release of passing premature judgment on ourselves and others, release of the need to keep everything intact, release of the desire to stay the same, and if not these, than release of whatever it is that we give ourselves to, to avoid giving ourselves to God, who once again gives himself to us and waits to see how he will be received.

On Advent & Exasperated Elephants

MLewisMadeline Lewis ’17

Theology and English

Undergraduate Fellow, Center for Liturgy

 

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

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

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

“I will not wait anymore!”

“We have waited too long!”

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

“We have wasted the whole day.”

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

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

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

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

May this Advent teach our hearts the worthiness of waiting.

Follow Madeline on Twitter @madlew4

On the Road Again

s200_david.lincicumDavid Lincicum, D.Phil.

Associate Professor, New Testament Studies

University of Notre Dame

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Who doesn’t love a good road trip?

From Jack Kerouac’s On the Road to John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, American literature is criss-crossed with road trips, journeys of transformation and discovery (many of them mapped if you’d like to follow along). And the very title of this post is probably enough to embed Willie Nelson’s earworm in your head for the next several weeks.

For the earliest Christians the road was something like a master metaphor. They inherited the scriptural habit of referring to their ethical conduct as a ‘way’ or ‘path’, they designated Jesus as the ‘road’ to God (John 14:6), and were even called ‘the road’ or ‘the way’ before they became designated ‘Christians’ (see Acts 9:2; 11:26). In this sense, we would do well occasionally to translate hodos with ‘road’ rather than the more abstract ‘way’, to remind ourselves of the concreteness of the image.

But why did the designation come to have such prominence?

For any nation, institution, or even for individual families, the story of their founding offers an anchor in the past to which they can return for guidance, an Archimedean point or a north star by which to navigate. Israel had multiple founding moments – creation, the election of Abraham, the giving of the Torah – but the deliverance of Israel from her forced slavery to Egypt in the Exodus loomed large among them.

The Passover tradition commemorating the Exodus ensured that the annual remembrance, the anamnetic commemoration of the deliverance, held the event regularly before the eyes of God’s people, and so it became over time a basic paradigm of salvation. When Israel found herself oppressed and in politically disadvantageous circumstances, she could remember God’s prior act of rescue from Egypt and ask for a repetition, an Exodus 2.0.The appeal for a sequel to the Exodus runs throughout the Psalms, but also enlivens the section of prophecy we have come to call deutero-Isaiah. In a turning point – beautifully captured in the opening movement of Handel’s Messiah – God instructs the prophet to comfort Israel after her long punishment in the Babylonian exile. Israel has been far from her homeland in a forced migration, but the prophet announces to the migrants a return: ‘in the wilderness, prepare a road for the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God’. The refugees needed a way to cross the foreboding desert to return westward to their ancestral land, and the prophet announces another exodus through another wilderness as the way to get there. After all, if God had done it once, he could certainly be asked for a repeat performance.

Flash forward over half a millennium, and the Gospel of Mark re-uses Isaiah’s words in its prologue: as it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’”. Close scrutiny reveals that the text is actually a conflated citation of Exodus, Malachi and Isaiah, but the mixed citation is ascribed to Isaiah as a means of signaling the controlling framework. Now, however, it isn’t the highway that is built in the wilderness, but rather the messenger who makes his proclamation there as a vox clamantis in deserto.

But what sort of road does Mark envisage? If he announces the construction of an Isaianic New Exodus highway, where does it go? The people of God are already in the land, and the idea of movement is initially puzzling.

Isaiah had announced the advent of YHWH, but in Mark’s telling – with a bit of help from the Greek translation of the Hebrew original – it is the kyrios, the Lord who comes: Jesus now acting in YHWH’s anticipated place. But rather than arrive with guns blazing, to unseat the Romans and reinstate the kingdom of God with force, with power, as the greatest country on the face of the earth, he comes in self-dispossession. And as Mark’s Gospel proceeds, we begin to notice that Jesus summons not soldiers and politicians, but a few fishermen and other workers to join him on the road.

Mark’s Gospel is thus a sort of road trip. Something is always happening euthus, immediately. Jesus seems to rush breathlessly from one healing or conflict to the next, and for the first half of his story the movements almost seem erratic (just try to work out the sea crossings in Mark!). But ‘on the road’, Jesus poses to the disciples a question about his identity (8:27), and from that time onward – even though his true identity is first grasped only haltingly, and never really fully until the cross – Jesus walks a single path, with firm intention: to make his way to Jerusalem.

The reader only slowly realizes, with dawning horror, that God’s highway, to which Isaiah pointed, the path out of the wilderness and to the promised land, is a death march. Jesus presses relentlessly on, progressively alienated from those around him, even finally from God, until he ascends the royal road to the ironic enthronement of the cross.

Emmaus iconWhat might have seemed to the casual observer to be merely another senseless death, another body crushed by the turning wheel of an unsteady history, now appears, to the eyes of faith, as the coming of God: not as one might have deduced it by reflecting abstractly on the most fitting way for a god to arrive, but by viewing the crucifixion from the road, following on behind Jesus as a disciple called to walk after the master.

In Advent, we reflect on the coming of Jesus in helplessness to the world and look forward to his coming again to set the world to rights. And we walk, as a pilgrim people, on the long road that stretches between those two advents. The path is sometimes an ambiguous one, as the apostle Paul knew all too well. He could describe it as a triumphal procession in which it is unclear whether we are the victors parading in triumph or the vanquished prisoners marching toward death (2 Cor. 2:14–16).

Jesus offers, now as then, a place behind him as followers on the path he broke. But the disciple is not above the master. The road of the new exodus is not a scenic drive that skirts the dodgy parts of town in favor of the countryside. But it leads after Jesus, through death and onward, into the hope of a resurrected life.