Category Archives: Spirituality and Justice

Liturgy and the New Evangelization: Symposium 2016

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Register for Liturgy and the New Evangelization

Over the last several years, the Center for Liturgy has hosted an annual summer gathering attending to the rites reformed by the Second Vatican Council. These summer symposia enabled us to perceive again the theological, ritual, and devotional genius of the reformed Rites of the Council.

Yet, in the course of our conversation, it became clear that the primary concern of our participants was not simply on the reformed Rites of the Second Vatican Council nor a re-reading of Sacrosanctum Concilium. That is, there was a sense that the major concern of our era is not the implementation of a post-conciliar liturgical vision but responding to those new signs of the times that the documents don’t fully address.

We heard from campus ministers, who acknowledged that they are working with a diminishing number of students, who are not coming to Mass at all. We heard from directors of catechesis that there is declining participation in both the sacraments of marriage and infant baptism. Nearly everyone we talked to addressed the difficulty of celebrating the liturgy in parishes where distraction and the busyness of the modern world are obstacles to the flourishing of a liturgical life.

We also heard from the wider Church that the liturgical conflicts that have been so central to those who work in liturgy don’t really matter to them. They’re concerned about the quality of preaching, how to form students (at whatever age) for the sacrament of confirmation, how to draw on a larger repertoire of liturgical music and sacred architecture. And we heard most of all that the translation of the Missal, however despised by those in liturgical scholarship and ministry, is not a major concern among those who offer the sacrifice of praise on a weekly basis. They’re worried about their families, their kids, integrating their jobs and religious practice. The translation neither helped them nor harmed them in this work.

Our conversations during these Symposia reminded me again and again of that famous letter of Romano Guardini, addressing the German bishops in the midst of the Second Vatican Council:

The question is whether the wonderful opportunities now open to the liturgy will achieve their full realization; whether we shall be satisfied with just removing anomalies, taking new situations into account, giving better instruction on the meaning of ceremonies and liturgical vessels or whether we shall relearn a forgotten way of doing things and recapture lost attitudes.

From our conversations, we developed a sense that the liturgical rites of the Church have actually been quite effective in promoting a deeper sense of involvement in Christ’s sacrifice of love among those present in the assembly. But the dire statistics of Pew Studies, the reality of seminarians that are under-formed, of marriages and families in which prayer is not central to identity, and of gradually emptying churches at least in the Northeast and Midwest (and on college campuses as a whole throughout the country) kept intervening. The work of the liturgical movement today is to build a civilization where liturgical prayer can flourish. Where we address the problems of the day not simply through quoting documents, which don’t have credibility for the listener. But return again to the sources of renewal, imagining what it means to live a liturgical life in the 21st century.

This year, we will be hosting our 2016 Symposium precisely on this topic: Liturgy and the New Evangelization. Indeed, we are focusing on this not simply because I wrote a book with this title. Rather, the Center for Liturgy at Notre Dame seeks to solve the problems of this day rather than those of the 1960s. We want to understand, through the research of Christian Smith, how families pass on faith so that liturgical leaders can empower the domestic church. We want to discern how digital media has formed (and at times malformed) the human being, who is to participate in worship. We want to acknowledge the diversity that exists in the American Church, which may open up new avenues for connecting liturgy and spirituality, of “devotional life” and “liturgical life.” We want to know  how liturgy “evangelizes” in the first place through ritual activity, through preaching, through catechesis, and through music. And we want dioceses, high schools, and colleges alike to begin to develop a comprehensive strategy where they celebrate a diversity of liturgical rites as a way of contributing to the work of evangelization in the (post)-modern world. And we want these groups to develop new approaches to catechetical and spiritual formation, grounded in the liturgy, that leads to the fullness of human flourishing, of happiness, of self-gift.

The Center for Liturgy is thus hosting our final Symposia on Liturgy and the New Evangelization as a sign of what is to come.

  • In future summers, we will be hosting a three-year cycle of summer conferences that will form partner dioceses, parishes, and schools in the theological and spiritual principles of the liturgy; in a Eucharistic vision of the world; and in making explicit the intrinsic connection between devotion, social justice, and the liturgy. This event will also eventually have an advanced track, which will consider special topics in liturgical-sacramental ministry.
  • We will be hosting another week that seeks to discern how the principles of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd might influence how we carry out the RCIA, marriage formation, infant baptism, and spiritual formation on college campuses.
  • We will continue to partner with Notre Dame Vision to develop an approach to liturgical music that is not simply grounded in the formation of musical capacities but whose foundation is in the liturgical and theological vision of the Church. It is not enough to form musicians. We need to form liturgical musicians, who know the liturgy, who pray the liturgy, who love the liturgy.
  • And lastly, we will be hitting the road to do workshops, retreats, and other educational events on college campuses throughout the United States (we’re heading to Michigan State, Washington University, and the University of Michigan during this academic year alone).

In this way, the Center for Liturgy seeks to enrich the liturgical and sacramental imagination for the evangelization and transformation of the world. We see liturgical prayer, still, as a unique medium for healing the modern imagination from consumerism, from injustice, from domestic discontent, social isolation, and technological overload.

Join us this summer at Notre Dame as we start to work together on this renewal of the imagination. A renewal that will lead, we believe, to the renaissance of liturgical and sacramental ministry in the 21st century.



Dwelling with Love Incarnate: Part 2

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Editor’s Note: This second 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. 

Dwelling with Love Incarnate: Part 1

In the Bleak Mid-Winter

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,

In the bleak midwinter, long ago.


Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;

Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.

In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed

The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.


Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,

Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;

Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,

The ox and ass and camel which adore.


Angels and archangels may have gathered there,

Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;

But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,

Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.


What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

This hymn, a text written by Christina Rossetti, rifts upon a number of the motifs that were implicit in O Magnum Mysterium. The silence of the bleak mid-winter is intensified through a placing of the Nativity in an English village, covered with snow. Worship is offered by the angels, yet the marvel of the Incarnation is upon display in Jesus’ drinking of milk from his mother’s bosom, worship being offered most fully through the tender kiss of a mother upon the cheek of her son. Yet, at the end, the hymn takes a turn common in devotional poetry of the time. The contemplation of the pastoral nativity demands some response by the poet and reader alike. A shepherd might bring a lamb, a Wise Man would bring gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but me—what is left but to give myself?

In this sense, Rossetti’s poetry functions almost Eucharistically. God’s action has unfolded in the Incarnation and what remains but the giving of oneself as a return-gift to the infant Son. And the icon of this return-gift is the blessed Virgin herself, who offers the kiss of love that the poet now desires to give to the Son. Such poetry is self-implicating, wooing one to participate in the gift of what takes place in the hidden indwelling of the God-man.

The liturgical poetry of Romanos the Melodist takes up this same perspective, where the reader of the poem, the singer of the hymn assumes a central role in the drama of salvation. In his hymn on the Nativity, Romanos invites the reader to assume the Marian role in the story:

“For I am not simply your mother, compassionate Savior;

it is not in vain that I suckle the giver of milk,

but for the sake of all I implore you.

You have made me the mouth and boast of all my race,

and your world has me,

as a mighty protection, a wall and a buttress.

They look to me, those who were cast out

of the Paradise of pleasure, for I bring them back.

May all things understand that, through me, you have been born

a little Child, God before the ages (The Nativity, 23).

While also reflecting upon the role of Mary in the drama of the Nativity, the hymn forms the reader to see him or herself as the Marian actor in the drama. In this age, as this hymn is sung, the Christian is also to become the place where Christ is born into the world.

Indeed, it is the very pedagogy of the crèche scene to invite us to participate within our own time in the Incarnation. The “Painted Houses” of South Africa uses tribal imagery to demonstrate how God’s dwelling among us might put an end to the hostility between rival factions.


The material of the banana tree of Paraguay incarnates the Christmas narrative into the agricultural milieu of that country.


Alaska’s own wintry background is now where the Savior of the world is born.


The crèche scenes are moments in which the story of Christmas is seen in its contemporaneity—the world grown weary through sin and death, now renewed through the glory of the Incarnate Word.

The family that keeps watch before the crèche participates in this drama of salvation. And indeed, this drama is unfolding even in the mundane world of family life. Cardinal Marc Ouellet writes, “…the love of Christian spouses and the richness of their family relationships become a sacred sign, a vehicle and sanctuary of a greater Love, the love of the Trinitarian, incarnate God, who enters into a humble and indissoluble bond with their community of life and love” (Divine Likeness, 53). The love of the Father poured out in his Son and then given over to women and men in history itself is still become manifest in the nuptial union. The family becomes an incarnate and inculturated sign of God’s love for the world to contemplate. Each of the families, in their own particularities, reveal something about the triune love of God made manifest in the Incarnation: the couple with a plurality of children, the elderly couple who now live alone, the family forced into migration, and the infertile couple who open their house to care for the poorest of the poor.

In this way, the nativity set can renew family life insofar as it reminds them that although domesticity is often mundane, it is in fact a participation in the drama of salvation in this time and place. It is a participation in a drama where there is not only joy but also signs of sorrow that mark the human condition. And the set invites us, just like the poetry of Christian Rossetti or Romanos the Melodist, to assume our role in the drama.

Born On a New Day

You are the new day.

Meekness, love, humility

Come down to us this day:

Christ, your birth has proved to me

You are the new day.


Quiet in a stall you lie,

Angels watching in the sky

Whisper to you from on high

“You are the new day”.


When our life is darkest night,

Hope has burned away;

Love, your ray of guiding light,

Show us the new day.


Love of all things great and small

Leaving none, embracing all,

Fold around me where I fall,

Bring in the new day.


This new day will be

A turning point for everyone.

If we let the Christ-child in, and

Reach for the new day.


Christ the Way, the Truth, the Life;

Healing sadness, ending strife;

You we welcome, Lord of life,

Born on a new day.

You are the new day.

A relatively modern carol, “Born On a New Day” is an adaptation of a secular song, one that promises the renewal of humanity through the burgeoning hope of love. The irony of the song, of course, is that the language of “new day” is fitting for the feast of Christmas. The hope of newness, of God’s renewal of the created order, is in fact at the font of the season of Advent itself, where we await the glad tidings of the Savior, who comes to renew all things.

And indeed, the crèche itself captures this newness through the presence of the Magi, who come from the ends of the world to greet the king whose power is made manifest in weakness. T.S. Eliot, in his “Journey of the Magi,” gives voice to these kings who have returned to their land:

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

With the coming of this new day is a necessary death, a giving up of the old dispensation for the new. Can we participate in a world grown tired from the reign of sign and death, when we have gazed with wonder upon the king who dwells among us? Is this not the reign we long for?

The new day that we long for, that was supposed to be inaugurated through the birth and death and resurrection of the beloved Son, seems so far away. The tragedies in Paris, together with the suffering of the Syrian migrants now denied homes make this patently clear to us. Should we turn away from this weary world? Should we give up on the project of waiting altogether?

LambThe crèche, as one might imagine, serves as a kind of medicine against this hopelessness, this world weariness of those who await the Incarnate Word’s reign on earth. To put up a crèche each year, in the midst of a world that has grown callous to the life of the unborn, to the suffering of the migrant and immigrant, to the prisoner condemned to death is a supreme act of hope. It is akin to the role of the tabernacle lamp, described by Charles Peguy in his poetics of hope in The Portal of the Mystery of Hope:

One trembling flame has endured the weight of worlds.

One vacillating flame has endured the weight of time.

One anxious flame has endured the weight of nights.

Since the first time my grace flowed for the creation of the world.

Since my grace has been flowing forever for the preservation of the world.

Since the time that the blood of my son flowed for the salvation of the world.

A flame impossible to reach, impossible to extinguish with the breath of death (Peguy, 5).

The family who each year puts up the crèche scene is doing more than following the liturgical calendar. Rather, they are manifesting to the world a hope that cannot be defeated by a politics or culture of death. Hope is born anew in the heart of the child, who recognizes for the first time the fact that that little babe in the crèche scene is Savior of the world; hope is born anew as the family prays before this scene each evening before darkness descends upon the world; hope is born anew when the family becomes the love they receive in this crèche.

Indeed, the manner in which hope is kept alive in the hearth of the domestic church is the reason why something so small as setting up a crèche scene is integral to the new evangelization. Secularity will ultimately not be defeated by intellectual argument alone; individualism cannot be destroyed by building a philosophical case alone against the irrationality of the position; nor for that matter will the coldness of the human heart toward the suffering of the unborn be “fixed” through a really fine op-ed. Rather, the hope of the Incarnation is passed on as a living flame from family to family, each time that they place in the infant Christ as the center of their home, manifesting to the world once against the fact that God is love. This, in fact, is the new day.


The Christmas crèche is thus more than a nice tradition, whereby Christians throughout the world mark the arrival of the season, just as they put up lights upon their homes or drink coffee out of a red cup from Starbucks. Rather, it is an embodied practice of remembering what the Father has accomplished through the humility of the Son, who is Love made flesh; it is an invitation to participation in this narrative again and again, renewing each season the hope for salvation that comes from God alone. It is a practice that serves as a bastion against a practical atheism that lives as if God is not more. It is a practice that renews from year to year the memory of the story that makes sense of all other stories.

And perhaps, it is the simple practice of praying before and setting up this crèche in the context of the domestic church that might be a source of renewal for the world itself. For as Cardinal Ouellet writes:

Evangelizing the family’s various relationships in the image of the Trinity, cultivating its sacramental life and consciousness, and revealing to the family the divine missions in which it participates; all of this could have a planetary impact on the mission of the Church and the future of humanity (76).

For the family to gaze with love upon the crèche, to contemplate the wonderful mystery taking place, and to pledge to become this mystery for the world: in this way, even now, the possibility of a new day, a new world of love can come into being. For when we dwell with love incarnate, we may find (perhaps even against our wills) that we become this love that we abide with: “Jesus, immortal boy, let this your birth give/to us peace and joy” (Adam of St. Victor 5.11).

Practicing Mercy

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

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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.

Being Our Sibling’s Keeper in a Culture of Sexual Violence

Rose UrankarRose Urankar

Undergraduate Fellow

ND ‘ 16, Theology and American Studies

Editors’ note: This is part of a series that we will be doing on examining the culture that makes possible sexual assault not only at Notre Dame but throughout the United States. 

The family, that ancient social structure, is surprisingly trendy at the moment—at least, within the Catholic Church.  From the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia to the Synod on the Family in Vatican City, family is all we seem to be talking about.

Notre Dame was way ahead of this trend.  Family has always been closely linked to the mission of the University.  It is one of the five pillars of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the others being mind, heart, hope, and zeal.  What’s more, the concept of the “Notre Dame Family” is ingrained into the University’s culture.  Campus becomes a “home under the Dome” for kin near and far, whether they be undergraduates or someone taking a campus tour.

In this home, the football stadium functions as a big table where all sorts of family members you may or may not recognize gather to share mashed potatoes and memories during the holidays.  People travel far and wide distances to be united (or reunited) in that stadium for the football games and camaraderie that even opposing fans famously extol.  There, we gather as a community to share an experience with people in kinship, even if they aren’t our actual kin.

Which is why I was shocked to experience sexual violence while entering the student section before the first game of the season.

Having been abroad last fall, my anticipation was high for this year’s football season.  The mighty throngs of students had dispersed my group of friends, which left me more or less alone as I walked into the senior section, aside from the mass of strangers trying to enter alongside.  As I was entering, I noticed that the people behind me were a little too close, so I tried to inch away.  Then, I felt a hand crudely grab me from behind.

Initially, I felt shock, then an infuriation so strong it propelled me to turn around and confront the stranger.  There were two male students, bearing equally vacant expressions.  Mine certainly was not, though, as I gave them a look that demanded an explanation.  The closer one spoke up quickly, saying:

“It wasn’t me.  It wasn’t me.  Relax, it wasn’t me.”

Then, he swiftly slipped past me and ran up the steps to join the mass of students, among whom he and his friend became, once again, nameless faces.

NDStudentSectionNumbly, I continued moving with the tide of seniors up the opposite staircase toward my friends.  The student’s words were on continuous loop in my head, like a mantra, simple and memorable.  Unlike traditional mantra, it brought me less clarity and more turmoil, for his answer begged a greater question:  If it wasn’t you, then who was it?

My internal tumult was interrupted, though, when a stranger next to me absentmindedly threw her arm over my shoulders and began to do the Irish jig.  The band played along jovially as the students embraced each other and danced, producing an image of one, big, ridiculous, happy family to all those looking on.

Is this the Notre Dame Family?

When incidents of sexual violence like this (and much worse) occur at Notre Dame, we are forced to reevaluate our role as a family and recognize our failings.  We are forced to reassess our level of investment in the well-being of our peers.  Like Cain, the first Biblical sibling, we ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9).

As a younger sister, I have been learning what it means to be a sibling my entire life.  From what I can tell, it means more than pulling yourself out of the rubble and running away after the cookie jar crashes to the ground.  It means helping your sibling clean up spilled chocolate milk from the carpet, even if you didn’t spill it.  It means grabbing a band aid to wrap up their scraped knee.  It means telling them when they sing the wrong note and listening with humility when they tell you the same.  It means drawing closer to the other in a bond that pours out in filial love, harsh honesty, and self-gift.

Siblings do not stand by and watch as their sibling gets hurt, but even more than that, siblings should not stand by and watch as their sibling enacts hurt.  Being a sibling is not saying “It wasn’t me” and slipping away, but identifying an error in the other and helping your sibling move past it.  For if your sibling keeps making this error, soon it will not just reflect on them, but on your whole family.

This is true of the Notre Dame Family as well.  We risk being associated with these kinds of violent actions if we continue to see them happen and, after disassociating ourselves, slip away.  As siblings within this family, we are called to bring about justice through love, honesty, and self-gift.  We are called to be more than our brother’s keeper—we are called to be advocate, light-bearer, shelter, and comforter.

We are called to throw our arms around each other not just as part of a silly jig, but as a sign of true community that is not self-seeking but self-giving, in a spirit of kinship that runs throughout our campus and our world.

Follow Rose on Twitter: rzurankar

Cultivating Practices of Life in a Throw-Away Culture

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

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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.

St. Thérèse: Behind the Eyes

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Vision and Student Engagement

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My daughter has a gift for noticing people and for remembering them. Several times in the last week she’s spotted a woman we met recently who begs for alms at different locations in our area. My daughter prayed for this woman, Sheila, during the intercessions of our family’s night prayer yesterday. She also remembered to pray for Chuck, whom she and I sometimes visit on his usual corner on Sunday afternoons, often bringing him a Subway sandwich. She prayed, too, for the Nigerian schoolgirls we prayed for every night beginning in 2014 when they were abducted and held for over a year, as well as for a woman who lived near us who was killed when a car crashed into her house… in 2012. There are other people—regulars and newcomers—who make their way into our intercessions, many of whom are brought forth from my daughter. The ones I listed here are just from last night. Needless to say, her prayer is full of people.

One night when I was putting her to bed a couple or maybe three years ago, she was talking about a child in a wheelchair she had seen with his family on the way to the park. I think the child had cerebral palsy and so I explained, as best I could to a four-or-five year old, that the wheelchair helped him get around and helped his family take him to the park. My daughter thought that must be hard for him and I said it probably was. Looking to the picture of St. Thérèse of Lisieux hanging next to her bed, I asked her if she wanted to ask St. Thérèse to pray for that boy, to which she responded, “No, I want to pray with St. Thérèse for him.”

therese-as-a-childSt. Thérèse found my daughter first. Sure, my wife and I gave her “Thérèse” as a middle name, but that didn’t cause or guarantee the attraction. No, I think the photos started it—photos like the ones that now surround her bed. In every photo, Thérèse exudes a youthful exuberance mixed with mature confidence. I think my daughter knew to trust her before anyone ever taught her she should. Thérèse caught my daughter’s eye as a small, small child because of the way Thérèse looked at her through those photos. The longer I know my daughter and the more I get to know Thérèse, the more I see my daughter coming to resemble Thérèse. The resemblance, however, isn’t so much about the complexion as it is about those eyes that notice people and that heart that remembers them. Thérèse gathers people in prayer.

Hans Urs von Balthasar—who does not remind me of my daughter—once described St. Thérèse’s prayer life as a “festival of communion.” It started in her home, where she prayed with her mother, her father, her sisters, the maid. When she went to Carmel, her prayer drew her into communion with her religious sisters, with whom she shared the daily rhythms of the contemplative life. From home and from the cloister, though, Thérèse was also a restless seeker, searching for others whose cares she could hold and whose good she took on as her special intentions. In particular, she searched for those who were lost or suffering.

Henri_PranziniUnfortunately pertinent to our own cultural moment, one of the most well-known lost ones whom Thérèse sought out was the convicted murderer, Henri Pranzini. Scheduled for execution, this man against whom a seemingly rock-solid case was mounted remained impenitent for the brutal triple homicide he had (almost certainly) committed. His trial was big news in Paris and throughout France, and Thérèse learned of his fate and disposition through the newspaper. In this man she would never meet, she saw the tragedy not only of unspeakable violence but also of a heart hardened to contrition. Thérèse hastened to take him into her prayer. As she confessed, though, she had no power of her own that would help this man, so she offered that of which she herself was a recipient: “the infinite mercies of Our Lord, the treasures of the Church, and finally […] a Mass offered for my intentions,” (all quotes from Story of a Soul). When it was reported, again through the newspaper, that prior to his execution Pranzini kissed a crucifix before his execution, Thérèse interpreted this as the sign of contrition and claimed the man as “my first child.”

Placing Thérèse in the presence of a murderer might produce some kind of cognitive dissonance. She’s a child, after all, and this is unfit company for a child. She herself is the model of simple faith, the model of trust, the model of loving little things. She seems unfit to shine light upon state executions.

And yet, as seen from another angle, this is precisely who she was: the one whose intercessory prayer is contemplation in action. Not contemplation that yields to action, but contemplation that is an active will to suffer along with the suffering, to carry their burdens along with them, and to seek their good as her own. For the one who “resolved to remain in spirit at the foot of the Cross to receive the divine dew,” the act of allowing her heart to become troubled at the troubles of others became the theme of her witness. She sought to suffer with the suffering Christ so as to glory in the glorified Christ. And how does Christ suffer? He suffers in his little ones, who bear the wounds of history and suffer all forms of oppression, but he also suffers in those who fear, who are impenitent, who cultivate suspicion, cast aspersions, envy and mock and scourge. They, too, suffer in their humanity, and Christ seeks them. So, then, does Thérèse.

The triumph of this “little saint” was always in seeing through the malaise to find the person. In her we find one in whom the Lord’s desire to suffer for others becomes her desire to suffer in love with others, even in their place. The intercessory prayer of St. Thérèse is a startling mystery which the episode with Pranzini only begins to reveal. Behind that exuberant youthfulness mixed with mature confidence hides the willingness that was both a gift of grace and a gift of her formation to consider vicarious suffering the greatest potential for human life—that is, to suffer for another. What mother doesn’t suffer love for her child, and do so willingly?

Thérèse’s short life was lived in pursuit of sacrificing her own preferences for the sake of the will of God, who seeks to find the lost “so that they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). With all its resplendence, there was also a danger to Thérèse’s spirituality, and it is a danger worth heeding. The danger for her would come in preferring her sacrifices and sufferings to anything else, for then she begins to make a performance out of fashioning a life of holiness. Even as this great saint shows us what depths sanctity holds, her own spiritual precariousness reminds us that the mission of a disciple always stands on the razor’s edge between the charity of Christ and the adoration of the self. Only as she continually learns to replace her concern for her own image with the concern of those for whom she prays does she, paradoxically, grow into the image of her beloved. In other words, Pranzini was never hers to save, which is why she unleashed the treasuries of the Church on his behalf. As my wife and I teach our daughter to pray, we continually teach her to unite these prayers to the prayer offered in Jesus’ name: Our Father

fusain-Jouvenot-guerre-1915Thérèse’s vision for and memory of the lost ones was so intense and so beautiful that, upon her deathbed, she vowed to spend her heaven doing good on earth, to continue searching within the mission of Christ the Good Shepherd. She also pledged, however, to bring a shower of roses through her ongoing prayer. It is this particular pledge that opens a portal through which we might glimpse the complex spiritual ecosystem in which Thérèse learned to thrive. During her life and in her dialogue with her Beloved Christ, she promises to strew the flowers of her small sacrifices before his heavenly throne. These flowers are the many acts of love on her Little Way, in which she accepts the concerns and need of others as blossoms in her own heart. She trusts that the littlest hearts of the poor ones—those in need, materially but especially spiritually—will become a beautiful bouquet that will please the Lord. She trusts that as these flowers “pass through Your own divine hands, O Jesus,” the “Church in heaven […] will cast these flowers, which are now infinitely valuable because of Your divine touch, upon the Church Suffering,” to heal it. The flowers that Thérèse gathers while on earth, she offers to the Lord and trusts that the saints in heaven will return them for the good of the suffering ones from whom they came. By the same logic, she pledges to spend her heaven showering roses back upon the earth. The cycle of charity between heaven and earth is like evaporation and precipitation: the particular needs of particular persons are offered as intercessions to the Lord, in whom the desire of the saints is to join him in healing others.

Thérèse never prayed alone: she was bedewed in communion. She drew those in need into her prayer because she herself was already drawn into a Sacred Heart that prayed for her, and in that Heart the company of the saints was her company. So it is that my daughter, who teaches our hearts to grow full with people in our nightly prayer, also taught me something about the confidence of joining the saints in intercessory prayer. When we take on the needs of others in prayer, we do not do so on our own, for already the saints in heaven strew flowers upon those who are suffering and we join them in that work of love. The Church celebrates one of those great saints today: the one her father called “My Little Flower”.

Follow Leonard DeLorenzo @leodelo2.

The Voice of the Poor at the United Nations

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Vision and Student Engagement

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Yesterday, in reflecting upon Pope Francis’s speech to the U.S. Congress and his blessing from the balcony, I suggested that the Pope invited our congressional leaders and the people they represent into a form of intercessory prayer. Following St. Paul, this prayer is predicated upon making room in oneself—in one’s own heart—for the needs and the good of others. As the Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium, St. Paul’s prayer was “full of people” because when he offered himself in prayer to God, he offered God all those whose cares he made his own (§281-282).

On the floor of the United Nations this morning, Pope Francis once again embodied the beauty and the power of intercessory prayer. His voice was his own and yet not his own because Francis carried the needs of the poor to the meeting of the nations.

In recognizing the mission of the United Nations to promote the common good and protect the human dignity of all, Francis spoke first to the sickness of the environment. To those who believe that the Pope should speak more about issues that directly threaten the dignity of human beings, it is important to heed the perspective from which Francis looks upon environmental issues: he sees them from the perspective of the poor. Francis argues that “any harm done to the environment is harm done to humanity,” and that the misuse of natural resources and the inequitable commerce of goods and profit (for the wealthy) and waste (for the poor) perpetuates a system of exclusion whereby the few live comfortably at the expense of the many:

The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing “culture of waste”. The dramatic reality this whole situation of exclusion and inequality, with its evident effects, has led me, in union with the entire Christian people and many others, to take stock of my grave responsibility in this regard and to speak out, together with all those who are seeking urgently-needed and effective solutions.

To see the “evident effects” of the “culture of waste”, one cannot look from the perspective of the economically prosperous and financially secure. Rather, in order to see the effects, one must allow oneself to see from the side of those who bear the cost. For the poor who are the most vulnerable to the degradations of the environment, the unjust distribution of goods and wealth, and systemic practices of exclusion, there is no debate about whether or not the ecological threat is real. The urge to commodify the natural goods that justly belong to all is translated, through social and economic manifestations, into the commodification of human beings: “human trafficking, the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labor, including prostitution, the drug and weapons trade, terrorism and international organized crime.”

This speech—not unlike Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato Si—is oriented to the promotion of the common good. Promoting the common good—at least rhetorically—is not uncommon. What makes the Pope’s speech distinctive is that he speaks to the powerful on behalf of the poor: he is bringing their perspective to the fore and demanding dignity and justice on their behalf. As the Vicar of Christ charged with the office of unity for the entire Church, this is the mission proper to his vocation. At the same time, however, it is yet another illustrative example of his practice of intercessory prayer. His authority—his voice—is filled with the needs and voices of those the Church protects as its special treasure: the poor. In this speech in particular, he cedes the space of his authority to the needs of the neediest. Only from this perspective can any one of us truly understand the common good in which we are called to participate:

The common home of all men and women must continue to rise on the foundations of a right understanding of universal fraternity and respect for the sacredness of every human life, of every man and every woman, the poor, the elderly, children, the infirm, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic.

This is the roll call of those whom the Pope, on behalf of the Church and her Lord, carries in his heart. His speech that advocates for them rises from his heart shaped in prayer for them. In this, Francis is intentionally following the example of St. Paul, who took the good of others as his own good and offered their needs to the Lord in his prayer.

Follow Leonard DeLorenzo @leodelo2.

Pope Francis Does the Big Apple

Samuel Bellafiore
Bellafiore Headshot
Dunwoodie Seminary
Seminarian, Diocese of Albany, NY

Last night my fellow seminarians and I had the huge privilege of praying Evening Prayer with Pope Francis at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC. A few highlights.



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Penguins boarded the NYC Subway system.

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To see and evaluate things from God’s perspective calls for constant conversion in the first days and years of our vocation and, need I say, great humility. The cross shows us a different way of measuring success.
Homily from St. Patrick’s Cathedral

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Around 2500 people gathered for Evening Prayer.

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Crowds on 5th Avenue awaited Pope Francis.

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Papa arrives!

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…I would like to express my esteem and gratitude to the religious women of the United States. What would the Church be without you? Women of strength, fighters, with that spirit of courage which puts you in the front lines in the proclamation of the Gospel. To you, religious women, sisters and mothers of this people, I wish to say “thank you”, a big thank you…and to tell you that I love you very much.

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The joy of men and women who love God attracts others to him.

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A grateful heart is spontaneously impelled to serve the Lord and to find expression in a life of commitment to our work. Once we come to realize how much God has given us, a life of self-sacrifice, of working for him and for others, becomes a privileged way of responding to his great love.


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The Pope delivered his homily in Spanish while screens across the Cathedral displayed translations. He began with unscripted condolences to the Muslim community regarding yesterday’s Mecca tragedy.

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Tired seminarians brace for a long Friday. (Relatively long…we’re not addressing the U.N. in the morning.) We’ll be Eucharistic ministers and servers at tonight’s papal Mass in Madison Square Garden!

Reading the Code: Pope Francis’ Speech to Congress

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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

Yesterday’s Homily: Christo-centric Mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Interruption of the Unborn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Follow Timothy P. O’Malley @NDLiturgyCenter

Dorothy Day on Abortion and Mercy

Jessica Keating_headshot

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

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“Don’t you care about anything other than abortion, like U.S. military plans to invade Iran?,” a middle aged man asked a women holding a sign that read, “Abortion Hurts Women.” I happened to overhear this question a few weeks ago, when I participated in the nation’s largest Planned Parenthood protest in history.

The problem with this question and others like it (don’t you care about poor, don’t you care about the environment, don’t you care about the plight of the immigrant, don’t you care about
homelessness, don’t you care about human trafficking, etc., etc.), is that they attempt to limit the horizon of conversation to predetermined and falsely constructed dichotomies. Such questions are not neutral; rather their framing fossilizes the narrative about human dignity in our country through the unrelenting rehearsal of 11951995_10152931926825793_3853225836498330680_nslogans and arguments. These questions, whether expressed on Facebook or Twitter, in the media, or by presidential hopefuls in what seems like endless election cycles, are nearly always linked to the desire for power, to get candidate X elected. The not-so- hidden implication of such questions is that one cannot care about the unborn and militarism, or human trafficking, etc., etc. I have also heard the question inverted, so as to imply if one is really against abortion, all other human dignity issues must recede from view. In either inflection, there is a lack of nuance, distinction, and vision.

In light of the absurdity of this set-up, I have found myself reflecting on Servant of God Dorothy Day as a particularly important icon for Catholics in America who are daily tempted to fall prey to disjointed “issues”-based politics and to cultivate a comparable “issues”-based gospel. She confounded such tidy divisions and simply declined to engage the American political milieu in such predetermined ways.

Day actually rarely spoke or wrote directly on the topic of abortion. Scour her journals, articles, letters, and books. Search her prolific corpus, and one will find scant reference to that ordeal of which she had a most intimate knowledge. She wrote a fictionalized account of her own abortion in an early work, The Eleventh Virgin, and obliquely gestures to the experience in her autobiography, The Long Loneliness. Indeed, she expended her considerable journalistic talents denouncing state sponsored militarism, detailing the rhythms of Dorothy_Day_1934family life, describing the scandal of the works of mercy, writing letters, and advocating for a new social order. In part, no doubt, this had as much to do with the historical fact that abortion was not available and practiced on the scale it is today until the end of her life, but I also suspect her relative silence on the subject had something to do with Day’s own deeply painful experience of abortion.

In addition to the references to abortion in The Eleventh Virgin and The Long Loneliness, Day speaks of her abortion again in a tender letter written on February 6, 1973 to a young woman named Cathie whose own abortion left her in deeply wounded and contemplating suicide. To Cathie she speaks of pain and hope, healing and prayer. “In a way,” Day writes “to use old-fashioned language, I feel you are a victim of souls, bearing some of the agony the world is in, Vietnam, the Third World, ‘the misery of the needy and groaning of the poor’”(All is Grace, 397).

Day again mentions abortion in a reminiscence to mark her 75th birthday that appeared in the August 10, 1973 edition of Commonweal Magazine. Writing of her conversion, The Imitation of Christ, and Bartolome de las Casas, she writes:

God forgive us the sins of our youth! But as Zachariah sang out, “We have knowledge of salvation through forgiveness of our sins.” I don’t think anyone recognizes the comfort of this text better than I do. I have not yet been attracted by the present tendency to bring everything out into the light of day by public and published confessions. Were we not taught by Holy Mother Church to respect the modesty of the confessional? Or is that a silly expression? But oh the joy of knowing that you can always go there and be forgiven seventy times seven times. (Even though you wonder, in your distrust of yourself, whether you really mean or have the strength to “amend your life.”) I hope your readers can read between the lines from the above and recognize what my positions on birth control and abortion are.

In the same “letter-article,” she recounts being asked by reports in
Australia about her views on abortion and birth control. To these 2251719973_01c2c3fd40questions, she explained matter-of-factly:

My answer was simplistic. I followed Pope Paul. . . . Thank God we have a Pope Paul who upholds respect for life, an ideal so lofty, so high, so important even when it seems he has the whole Catholic world against him. Peter Maurin always held before our eyes a vision of the new man, the new social order as being possible, by God’s grace, here and now, and he so fully lived the life of voluntary poverty and manual labor.

There is a striking similarity between Day’s straightforward answer and Pope Francis’ first interview with America Magazine where, when asked about abortion, contraception, and gay marriage, he said simply, “I am a son of the Church.” And yet, such simple answers are far from simplistic. Rather, they speak of a life lived according to a particular form of life and a particular logic of love and mercy.

Day’s most formal statement about abortion appeared The Catholic Peace Fellowship’s “Statement on Abortion,” which she co-signed with six others on June 28, 1974. Here the authors write:

We make this statement to protest a policy and a practice, not to condemn any individual for a tragic decision she or he may have felt forced to make, just as in our protest against war and its destruction of human life we pass no judgment upon the individual who acts in good conscience.

. . . For many years we have urged upon our spiritual leaders the inter-relatedness of the life issues, war, capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia and economic exploitation. We welcome the energetic leadership our bishops are giving in the abortion controversy and we are proud to join our voices with theirs. At the same time we must point out that, ultimately, the sincerity of our words and theirs on any of these issues will be measured by our readiness to recognize and deal with the underlying social problems which turn many people to these deadly womalternatives, to condemn all forms of social and economic injustice and to work for their elimination and the establishment of a social order in which all may find it easier to be “fully human.”

What are we to make of these three references? The first appears in personal letter in which Day recalls her abortion and the healing grace of God. The second appears in a self-described “letter-article,” wherein she speaks of abortion in connection to the mercy and authority of the Church. The third reference appears in a formal statement, in which the authors denounce the policy and practice of abortion and call for a new social order, one which makes human flourishing easier—a society that, in the words of Peter Maurin, “makes it easier to be good.”

Taken together, Day’s remarks on abortion offer two essential insights.

1) Mercy capacitates us to see more. In her “letter-article” for Commonweal, Day quotes the Benedictus: “We have knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of our sins.” The mercy of God, fully disclosed in the person of Christ, and Day’s encounter with God’s mercy enabled her to see more of reality. Indeed, it is a life prayer, of participation in the sacramental life, that forms such a vision. Grace elevates and penetrates even that which is available to reason. It enfolds us into the logic that knits together all “life issues.”

If this sounds similar to a seamless garment life, it is because it is. But let me be clear, such a vision must avoid conflation. The image of the seamless garment like the image of the Body of Christ, with Christ as the head, is a hierarchical image. Abortion, the willful termination of human life, is simply not the same moral act as capital punishment or even economic exploitation. Rather, such a vision requires the careful and precise distinction evident in Evangelii Gaudium, when Pope Francis explained why the protection of the unborn takes primacy of place in the Church’s teaching on human dignity.

Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with
particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless pope-francis-im-not-a-marxistand innocent among us. . . . Defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems. Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be. No. 213

A society that fails to defend its most vulnerable members will soon find that it is unable to defend other human rights, that indeed, what is considered a “right” increasingly will be determined by the powerful.

At the same time, such a vision can see the inner connection of all life issues. We do well not only to remember that the realities of war, migration, and economic exploitation often disproportionately affect the most vulnerable among us namely, children, but also that all offenses against human life, in different ways and at different levels of gravity, participate in a logic of violence, in a logic that produces a throw-away culture. We also do well to remember that the realities of war, migration, and economic exploitation often disproportionately affect the most vulnerable among us namely, children. Day expresses this when, in her letter to Cathy, she sees the acute particularity of Cathy’s suffering and its universality. It is precisely because of the Church’s teaching on abortion (and euthanasia) that enables her to to speak and act with clarity, conviction, and authority on all issues related to life, to labor tirelessly against an economy that kills (53). This kind of vision is elevated and expanded by an encounter with God’s fierce and tender mercy.

  1. Mercy is a habit that requires concrete forms of practice. Peter Maurin was famous for saying that the aim of the Catholic Worker was to build a new society in the shell of the old, one that made it easier to be good. In her “letter-article” to Commonweal, Day seems to make a non-sequitur from her affirmation of Pope Paul’s upholding of respect for life to Peter Maurin. As I read over the passage a second time, however, it struck me that her abrupt change in subject was only an appearance. Indeed, for Day (and for us) Maurin is living witness to the gospel of life. He provides, as does Day, a particular enactment of a life conformed to Christ, to the one who reveals the breadth and depth of human dignity, which is made known to us again and again through the tender forgiveness of our sins. It is a life lived within the horizon of mercy.

In his concrete practices of prayer and the works of mercy, the vigorous exercise of his mind and enactment of his vision for an agronomic university, Maurin (and Day) worked to build a “social order in which all may find it easier to be ‘fully human.’” By daily practicing the way of mercy, they labored for a society in which it was easier to be good, easier to choose life, easier to say no to the will to power and violence in all its many forms.

I stood on Grape Road, with my jeans rolled up and my hair pulled back, with the young and old, with men and women who had also come to plead for justice and mercy for unborn, to call for a new 11879275_10152927735535793_2395403451959082158_osocial order, one that makes human flourishing easier—a society permeated by mercy. This work on behalf of the unborn is not exhausted by protesting, though that is critical. It is not exhausted by legal changes, though these are necessary, as the law shapes the imagination. It requires more; it requires concrete practices of care and support for mothers and their children—health care, paid maternity leave, a living wage, etc. Mercy does not choose its own way. It does not say, I will do this work of mercy but no other. Mercy is a bridge, it has wholeness, a breadth and depth that makes it easier to choose life.