Combating Soulmates: A Yearly Renewal of Vows

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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A powerful moment at the diocesan Chrism Mass is the renewal of priestly promises. On a yearly basis, those in attendance (if the diocese cares enough to truly make it a diocesan event rather than a chance to pick up the annual supply of oil) have an occasion to reflect upon the gift of the priesthood. And priests, likewise, are invited again to consider their own service to the People of God, rededicating themselves anew to the Eucharistic sacrifice that is at the heart of their priestly identity. While priests can do this everyday through their practice of ministry at the altar and in the parish, the public nature of the renewal becomes a source of witness to the whole Church.

Among those who are married, there are not the same public occasions for renewing one’s commitment. Many dioceses seem to offer such opportunities for couples celebrating twenty-five or fifty years of married life. But as one member of a couple entering my tenth year of marriage, I have come to see the wisdom of having a more frequent renewal of one’s wedding vows not simply for the couple but the entire Church.

When first vowing myself to “love you and honor you all the days of my life,” I didn’t have a sense of what this love and honor would consist of. I imagined that such love and honoring would be easy precisely because on that day I “loved” Kara so much. But over the years, this vow has become for me a kind of examination of conscience. To love and honor my wife is to be at home in time so that I can take care of our son while dinner is being finished. It is to ungrudgingly bathe my son in the evenings so that Kara can have a few hours without a toddler yelling at her every fifteen seconds. It is to plan evenings out where Kara and I can once again delight in being in each other’s presence as adult human beings capable of consuming a meal without food being thrown across the room. I don’t always adequately perform these offerings of love. I am not always grateful for the presence of Kara in my life. And I need at least a yearly encounter with these vows to remind myself of the depths of love that I have promised to Kara, to renew the gratitude that is at the heart of our married lives.

But, it’s not just the individual couple that needs this yearly reminder. Rather, marriage within Catholicism is experiencing a rapid decline. In 1965, with 48.5 million Catholics in the United States, there were 352,458 marriages. In 2014, with 66.6 million Catholics in the US, there were 154,450 marriages. This decline is reflective of broader trends in which only 25% of Millennials are at this point married. This decline in marriage in at least partially (there are many other reasons for this) indicative of the nearly impossible standards by which many find themselves discerning a spouse. Think, for example, about the show How I Met Your Mother. The entire sitcom is based on the assumption that marriage is something that one only does after finding your soul mate. If after six weeks of dating, if Ted doesn’t “feel anything,” then that person is not his soulmate. The series finale of the program (much maligned) has Ted marrying after a relationship of some seven years his long awaited soulmate.

Having couples yearly renew their vows (perhaps in the Easter season) in front of the assembly of believers is perhaps medicine against this notion of the soulmate. Here are couples, well aware that marriage is fundamentally a matter of the transformed will and less some sort of “magical finding of a soulmate.” Here are couples who have remained married despite the difficulties encounters. For these couples, marriage is a matter of self-gift over time, of bodies worn by age and love alike, becoming sacred signs to the community of the gift of marriage to the world. It would be an annual moment for children to remember that their parents are most capable of being parents insofar as they have been taken up into the gift of divine love that is the sacrament of marriage. For children to recognize, with reverence, the gift of divine love that has made possible the love that they encounter in their families.

It’s a small idea. But, I think the Synod on Marriage and Family should set aside this time throughout the Church for each married couple to renew their vows in the public assembly once a year. Holding up the gift and ideal of marriage on a yearly basis might do more to stemming the decline in marriage than we would imagine. And it would be an in-road to holding up marriage as the “priestly” and “prophetic” vocation it is in the modern world.




The View of an Outsider

Molly DailyMolly Daily, ND ’14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Divine School of Solidarity: The Hours

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Each morning at 5:00 AM, I rise and plop down upon the couch in my living room to greet the new day. My deepest desire at the time is to consume a cup of coffee and to gaze mindlessly at the television as I recover from slumber. Yet, more often than not, I pass by this temptation to spend the morning “doing” the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer (with a cup of coffee in hand, of course). Before 5:30 AM comes around, I have acknowledged to God the sin that I am responsible for; I have  asked God to let me hear the voice of the Lord thundering over the mountains; I have lamented the sorrows that inflict not only me but the entire People of God; and, I have praised God for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit’s recreation of the world.

HoursThe gift of the Liturgy of the Hours as a daily practice is that the Christian is schooled in the fullness of the spiritual life as we meditate morning after morning, night after night upon the Psalms. And these Psalms are given to us. We do not get to choose which ones we pray. We do not simply praise God with timbrel and harp but must also acknowledge our deep woundedness, the injustice of the world, and the sorrow that comes with hearing only silence in the midst of our prayer to God. If I could create my own personal ordo of Psalms that I would pray each morning, I would avoid anything that could be construed as “negative.” I would sip my coffee in peace and sing to God a new song but never acknowledge the depths of mercy that I need in order to love God and neighbor alike. Yet, the Church’s construction of the Liturgy of the Hours is wiser than my personal ordo. It is a school of prayer.

And when we pray the Liturgy of the Hours, it should be noted that this action is never simply about the individual Christian offering his or her prayers to God. The General Instruction for the Liturgy of the Hours notes that praying each morning with the Church is never a private act:

There is a special and very close bond between Christ and those whom he makes members of his Body, the Church, through the sacrament of rebirth. Thus, from the Head all the riches belonging to the Son flow throughout the whole Body: the communication of the Spirit, the truth, the life, and the participation in the divine sonship that Christ manifested in all his prayer when he dwelt among us.

Christ’s priesthood is also shared by the whole Body of the Church, so that the baptized are consecrated as a spiritual temple and holy priesthood through the rebirth of baptism and the anointing by the Holy Spirit and are empowered to offer the worship of the New Covenant, a worship that derives not from our own powers but from Christ’s merit and gift.

“God could give us no greater gift than to establish as our Head the Word through whom he created all things and to unite us to that Head as members. The results are many The Head is Son of God and Son of Man, one as God with the Father and one as man with us. When we speak in prayer to the Father, we do not separate the Son from him and when the Son’s Body prays it does not separate itself from its Head. It is the one Savior of his Body, the Lord Christ Jesus, who prays for us and in us and who is prayed to by us. He prays for us as our priest, in us as our Head; he is prayed to by us as our God. Recognize therefore our own voice in him and his voice in us.”

The excellence of Christian prayer lies in its sharing in the reverent love of the only-begotten Son for the Father and in the prayer that the Son put into words in his earthly life and that still continues without ceasing in the name of the whole human race and for its salvation, throughout the universal Church and in all its members (7).

TheAgonyIn other words, to pray the Liturgy of the Hours is never private prayer. To pray these Psalms and intercessions day after day is to join our voice to Jesus Christ’s continual prayer of praise and lament to the Father. For Christ’s voice still calls out to the Father through the Church. Jesus knows our sorrows, our joys. He knows the suffering of a world where many are forced into migration because of the injustice enacted by political regimes. He knows the sorrows of those who experience radical loneliness, who cry out for God’s help but hear nothing; a nothingness that becomes a taunt. Jesus Christ knows the fullness of the human condition. And through our praying the Psalms within the context of the Church’s prayer, we let his voice resound in our own, offering to the Father a sacrifice of sorrow and praise for the world.

Praying the Liturgy of the Hours each morning is, thus, not ultimately about the development of my individual religious life. Rather, it is an occasion to exercise my baptismal vocation to let Christ’s voice echo throughout the world.

It is to become aware, in praying a Psalm of Lament, that there are fathers and mothers in the world, who have to look upon the body of their child, who drowned while trying to escape from the horrors of a war that no one deserves but those in power feel necessary; it is to take up the voice of my student, who is experiencing deep homesickness and loneliness, afraid that he or she will never find a trustworthy friend; it is to make my own the fear of a colleague, diagnosed with cancer; it is to consider those fathers and mothers, who have made a decision to have an abortion and now deal with the painful consequences on a daily basis; it is to cry out to God in the voice of all those who are denied even the most basic forms of human dignity; it is to recognize my own callousness in the midst of these sorrows, the sin of indifference that becomes my bread. Lord, rouse up your might and come to our help.

To pray these Hours each day, therefore, is to enter not simply into a school of prayer but a school of divine solidarity. For God has taken up in Jesus Christ, the Son, the fullness of the human condition. And even now, the mercy of the Incarnation continues as our voice becomes the voice of the Son.

Of course, the consequence of praying the Liturgy of the Hours is that we must learn to love the world aright. Hans urs von Balthasar notes again and again in his theological aesthetics that the purpose of the Christian life is not “delight” in beauty. It is discipleship. If we are to give our voice over to the sorrows of our brothers and sisters, then we must also give our bodies to their plight. We must care for the sick. We must cry out to those in power to come to the aid of those on the margins. We must go to the margins ourselves, letting the words that we pray echo now in our commitment to love aright. The Liturgy of the Hours invites us not simply to “imagine” solidarity but to practice it on a daily basis.

For each day, we are invited again and again to hear the voice of the Lord, to refuse to let our hearts be hardened. And to enter into radical relationship, through Jesus Christ, to all those who share with us the humanity of the Son.

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.

Conversion Toward Creation

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Today is the first annual Day for the Prayer of Creation, inaugurated soon after Pope Francis released Laudato Si. In the letter inaugurating this day of prayer, in which we join together with Orthodox Christians throughout the world, Pope Francis writes:

As Christians we wish to contribute to resolving the ecological crisis which humanity is presently experiencing. In doing so, we must first rediscover in our own rich spiritual patrimony the deepest motivations for our concern for the care of creation. We need always to keep in mind that, for believers in Jesus Christ, the Word of God who became man for our sake, “the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them, in communion with all that surrounds us” (Laudato Si’, 216). The ecological crisis thus summons us to a profound spiritual conversion: Christians are called to “an ecological conversion whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them” (ibid., 217). For “living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (ibid.).

Pope Francis notes that this day will be one of conversion, of prayer, and of reflection upon humanity’s responsibility in creating ecologies of destruction rather than love. The genius of Laudato Si remains  its ability to locate our destruction of the created order in the sin that infects the human heart:

This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters (2).

This day, then, is not simply a Catholic equivalent to Earth Day per. Rather, it is an invitation for us to awaken to the conversion that is required if we are to live aright in the community of creation. We must look anew at our relationship with the entire created order, to see how our desire to grasp and own wounds the earth and the global human community alike. In the context of prayer, we must discern new habits that demonstrate our love for the created order anew.

These latter habits can be big and small. Some years ago, my wife and I received a Keurig from my parents. For years, I had grown accustomed to making a cup of coffee from that Keurig machine, aware of the destruction inflicted by those tiny plastic cups. But, it was so convenient. After reading Pope Francis’ encyclical this summer, we stopped using these plastic cups. We have begun to purchase coffee again and to use refillable K-Cups. Because of the “bad” habit that I had developed, the vice, this new practice was more difficult than it would seem. But, by developing a new habit, it has increased my own awareness of the cavalier way that I treat the created order as a whole.

In fact, it’s not just K-Cups that I have grown accustomed to using without thought. In fact, it is the entire created order that we have come to treat as something to be thrown-away. This day of prayer, of conversion, and repentance is an occasion to recommit ourselves to love all of creation, especially those in creation we find the hardest time to love. This is not an abstract exhortation but a day for us to set time to pray before the Blessed Sacrament and to discern concretely how we treat the environment and each other as disposable objects for our own delight rather than gifts that elicit divine praise.


Drinking and the Culture of Sexual Assault

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Vision and Student Engagement

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

Editors’ note 2.0 (September 1, 2015): This piece offers one narrative-based perspective on the culture of sexual assault that permeates college campuses. It is directed fundamentally to men, inviting them to recognize their own culpability is fostering a culture in which assault is possible. Future posts, occurring throughout the fall of 2015, will attend more to the situations that foster this culture. These pieces, presently being assembled through dialogue among Notre Dame undergraduates and those involved in residence life both here and beyond will deal with power dynamics among men and women; the role of pornography in misshaping sexual desire; the problems of the hook-up and party culture in forming assumptions about sexual activity among undergraduates that leave women in particular vulnerable to assault; and, what it means to discuss “healing” in terms of these assaults.  

Some classes had yet to meet twice when those of us at the University of Notre Dame received the first email of the year reporting an alleged sexual assault in a campus residence hall.  Two days later, another email arrived, this time announcing two possible crimes at once: one was described as “non-consensual sexual contact” and the other was the second reported assault of the week.  To be honest, I sort of forgot about emails like this over the course of the summer.  Even still, when I opened the first one I wasn’t immediately shocked because, for better or worse, the email looked quite a lot like all the other ones I received last year regarding similar incidences.  It has almost become standard in a college environment like ours to exchange these emails every few weeks, sometimes with campus or local news stories to follow, and sometimes not.  If not for an unclear decision made under the influence of alcohol more than 15 years ago, I could have been the reason for a similar report.

I was a freshman living in an undergraduate residence hall at the very same institution at which I now teach.  On some weekend night in the middle of the unending winter months, some of my Zahm Hall dorm-mates were hosting a party in the 1A section.  These guys were very good friends with a group of girls that all the rest of us thought were incredibly attractive (we used different language then).  I don’t remember what we drank that night, but I do know that we consumed plenty.  I was drunk but still had some of my wits about me, while Mandy (not her real name) was probably less aware of herself than I was.

I don’t know how or why I ended up back in my own room—148 Zahm Hall—in the B-section of the first floor while the A-section party was still going strong, but I do know that Mandy ended up back in there with me.  I remember sitting next to each other on the floor next, in between our cheap couch and our cheap TV, and I remember the surprise that, despite what I would have expected, Mandy was coming on to me.

The reason I know that I still had some of my wits about me is because I remember that very moment in clear and vivid terms.  I remember what I felt and what she looked like—that is, I remember that she was as stunning as she ever even as I was dimly aware that she was not fully herself.  Noticing that about her made me feel some kind of inner pause or some stir of conscience or maybe just fleeting fear.  All the same, I also felt excitement.  This was the kind of moment with the sort of young woman that, in some unspoken manner, I wanted to find myself in.  And there I was, and there she was; we were in my room and she was willing, or at least it seemed so.  And then something happened.  I really don’t know if or how I made this decision, but instead of responding in kind to what I perceived as her advance, I took her to her friends and I went back to mine.

I want to be clear about this: though my memory of that encounter is clear, whatever decision I made or instinct I followed was not at all clear to me.  It was not a conscious act of virtue.  It was also not the first time I had been drunk with a girl who was also drunk, but it may have been the first time I noticed the difference in how we were functioning, cognizant of the situational power differential between us.

I want to be clear about something else, too: though I probably went in to that night vaguely or maybe even actively hoping that, by some turn of luck, I would find myself in a situation very much like the one I found myself in, I know for certain that I had no intention of taking advantage of anyone.  I don’t think that thought has ever crossed my mind, thanks be to God.  All the same, had I acted otherwise, I would have had a very hard time convincing myself that I had not taken advantage of her in that situation.  This is the realm of sexual assault, or at least “non-consensual sexual contact.”

I don’t know why I didn’t act otherwise: all the momentum was going in that direction. And yet some momentary flash of recognition passed before me, and for some reason I didn’t ignore it.  But for that, I might have been the reason for one of those emails I received this week.  (The story of my moral growth since then is another story.)

I have observed that when the “issue” of sexual assault on college campuses bubbles up because of some new incident or report or set of statistics, some will point to alcohol and the culture that builds up around it, while others will say that predators are predators and alcohol isn’t the reason they act the way they do.  While research does support the claim that the majority of assaults are perpetrated by a small group of (mostly) men, the environment that makes many of these assaults possible is just the sort of environment my friends and I created at that dorm party.  If only I had had a couple more shots or if only someone who wouldn’t respond to that flash of recognition the way I had was in that room with Mandy instead of me, the night could have ended very differently.

This isn’t only about alcohol impairing my judgment and it certainly doesn’t mean that Mandy was responsible for the situation we found ourselves in—what it means is that that entire night carried the implicit danger of what almost happened.  The line between implicit and explicit in that case was an unwilled thought in the mind of a drunken 19 year-old freshman guy.  It is still hard for me to believe I responded to that thought rather than to what I at least perceived to be Mandy’s invitation.

Here’s my point: those who persist in trying to separate the sexual assault “issue” on college campuses from the alcohol issue are dead wrong.  If this were an academic article, I would try to veil my opinion in some jargon that we academics are trained to assume so that I could back-peddle a bit if need be to give those who disagree with me some room to operate—that’s just part of the game.  Well, this isn’t an academic issue and nothing about this is a game.

So, with all due respect to those who think that sexual assaults and alcohol are separate issues, it has come to the point where all of us involved in higher education are responsible for this culture where section parties in campus residence halls become the occasions for potential or actual sexual assaults.  Even when there is not an outright party, this is still a matter of underage or heavy drinking, or both, on campus and off campus.  I do not lay this at the feet of the administration: we all bear responsibility.  Faculty and staff bear the responsibility for addressing this issue head on, along with the administration, rather than letting it fall back out of view in between emails or academic terms.  Students bear the responsibility of cultivating the kind of environment for themselves and their peers where the likelihood of such acts is dramatically reduced.  That means taking alcohol out of the equation.  This does not just pertain to the partiers; it also pertains to those of us who allow this culture to continue.

In the most direct terms, however, the greatest responsibility belongs to those who continue to create, actively contribute to, or engage in the parties and other events that are the occasions for these crimes against the law and against human dignity.  To those students who think they can manage this issue, I say that while it may very well be true that you can hold your liquor, that you would not assault anyone, and that you stand against sexual assault, it is also true that you have a responsibility to take away the most common conditions in which these assaults occur, as do I.  You have a responsibility to the community of which you are a part and to the students who may otherwise become victims or perpetrators or something in between because of the culture you endorse.  Cutting against that particular culture will certainly cost you some really fun nights.  So be it.

Now in my mid-thirties, I would absolutely choose four years of okay college nights for my younger self if it meant avoiding one really fun night where I contributed to an environment that made a sexual assault more likely.

Augustine and the “Sacrament” of Teaching

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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At the beginning of the semester, I often consider what it means to teach theology to students. I know that my primary responsibility is to facilitate inquiry into the theological tradition of the Church. And I do this. But, after five years of teaching, I can’t help but notice that something more happens in the activity of teaching. That, I grow fond of the students. That both of us seem to get more out of being in one another’s presence, of studying together, than we would if we were to read the material alone. As we study these texts together, we encounter the great questions of existence, and we are often reduced to silence before the mystery of divine love that we discover. That I find myself uttering prayers for their needs, for their safety while traveling, for the angst that comes upon them as they change majors (once again), as their parents are overcome with illness, as they experience the pain of homesickness.

AugustineTeachingIn such moments, I often think of the gift of my vocation as a teacher. And perhaps no one had a more robust sense of the “sacramental” gift of teaching than Augustine of Hippo whose feast day we celebrate. In his Teaching Christianity, the doctor of grace writes:

“…the human condition would be wretched indeed if God appeared unwilling to minister his word to human beings through human agency. It has been said, ‘For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are (1 Cor. 3:17): how could that be true if God did not make divine utterances from his human temple but broadcast direct from heaven or through angels the learning that he wished to be passed on to mankind? Moreover, there would be no way for love, which ties people together in the bonds of unity, to make souls overflow and as it were intermingle with each other, if human beings learned nothing from other humans” (Prologue 6-7).

God has given the vocation of teaching to humanity not simply so that we can share information with one another. Rather, teaching is integral to the incarnation itself in which the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The theological classroom is the great space for this incarnation to unfold whereby students encounter anew divine love mediated through text and practice alike.

This fact, for Augustine, fundamentally changes what it means for the teacher at whatever level to exercise his or her ministry. Especially for those of us teaching in higher education, there is often a sense among us that the bestowal of basic knowledge is beneath us. That it is only doctoral or master’s students who are worth receiving our instruction. Yet, in his Instructing Beginners in Faith, Augustine speaks to the discouraged teacher and deacon Deogratias on this very point:

One reason for discouragement then may be that our hearer does not grasp our insight, and so we are compelled to come down as it were from the pinnacles of thought and delay over each slow syllable in the plains far below. And it worries us how what is imbibed by the mind in one swift draught takes long and convoluted by-ways as it comes to expression on our lips of flesh, and, because our utterance differs greatly from our insight, we find that speaking palls and we would rather remain silent (I.10.15).

DiscouragedStudentsThose of us who have taught theology at any level know this moment. In our office, we have assembled a remarkable lesson plan; we have drunk deeply of the wisdom of Hildegard, of Theresa, of Irenaeus, of Hans urs von Balthasar, of the book of Job. We enter class and instead of discovering the same delight in our students that occurred in us as we contemplated the texts we are teaching, we see only boredom. We see misunderstanding. We see an incapacity to grasp, to understand, perhaps even to care.

Yet, Augustine continues:

If this is the reason for our discouragement, then we should consider what has earlier been proposed to us by him who has shown us an example that we might follow in his steps (1 Pt 2:21). For, however far removed our spoken words are from the liveliness of our understanding, much greater still is the distance between our mortal flesh and his equality with God. And yet, even when he was in that state of equality, he emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave, and the words that follow, down to even death on a cross (Phil 2:6-8). What reason did he have for doing this other than to become weak for the weak in order to gain the weak (1 Cor 9:22)?

To teach Christianity is necessarily to take on a Christological shape to one’s pedagogy. The act of teaching the most basic material is itself an encounter with Christ’s self-emptying love. The teacher who does not know this, who fails to grasp his or her sacramental identity as imaging Christ’s self-giving love is not properly teaching the material. Christian love necessitates delighting in the difficult cases, in moments of misunderstanding. For, it is here that the teacher is invited to perform anew God’s love for the human person.

It is then particularly apt that we begin each semester together by celebrating the feast of Augustine. For this great doctor of the Church reminds us that the vocation of the theologian at whatever level is not merely sophisticated research. But, the activity of embodying in one’s very teaching the enfleshment of the Word. To teach the tradition of the Church in such a way that one sacramentally embodies the heart of God’s love for the human person.

To be a theological educator at whatever level is indeed a lofty vocation; one that requires us to descend and descend and descend into the way of love. Let us pray for the intercession of Augustine in this work as we commence our academic year.


On Tinder and the Project of Human Character

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Vision and Student Engagement

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The 2010 film The Social Network opens with Mark Zuckerberg—the now ubiquitous founder and CEO of Facebook—sitting in a bar across the table from his college girlfriend. From the get-go, he’s peculiar and awkward whereas she seems self-aware and grounded. Even so, he’s engaged and, in a strange way, engaging. What he’s involved in is something we all recognize: it’s a date. At least he is until his hyperactive mind leads him well beyond insensitivity and rudeness, so that, in true Aaron Sorkin fashion, the whole scene is flipped upside down within a few minutes of dialogue and he is abruptly dumped.

TinderI remembered this scene as I was reading a stunning new piece on Tinder and the hookup culture that has been making its way through social media over the past week.  Reading about the evolution of the dating scene in New York City and on selected college campuses—or, even better, the apocalypse of that dating scene—it is interesting to remember how Sorkin’s biopic of Zuckerberg begins and ends.  In the film’s closing scene, the man whom we first saw on a date in a crowded bar is sitting alone in a conference room waiting for his ex-girlfriend to accept his friend request on Facebook.  This is, of course, a finely crafted portrait of the man who created the most powerful tool for social connection the world has ever seen: in Sorkin’s eyes, Zuckerberg’s very act of creation was concomitant with his loss of intimacy.  This social network isolates, Sorkin seems to say. And as one of the college students in the Tinder article puts it, “[we have all] grown up on social media [so] we don’t know how to talk to each other face-to-face. You form your first impression based off Facebook rather than forming a connection with someone, so you’re, like, forming your connection with their profile.”

According to the Tinder article, the marketplace of digital personae that Facebook established has morphed into streamlined online shopping for sexual partners.  Tinder is predicated on the desire to keep options open and minimize self-investment. According to this logic, who would want to be stuck in a commitment to eating at a lesser restaurant if you are able to get a table at a better restaurant at the last minute? All reservations are provisional, as are all commitments.  “You can’t be stuck in one line… There’s always something better,” reasoned a twenty-something investment banker.

With Tinder, that better something—or that more of something—may come with the next swipe, or the one after that.  So rather than investing a whole night in dating one person or in hanging out at one bar, you can browse countless potential partners in your vicinity.  The payoff, for some, is that “I can go to my phone right now and no doubt I can find someone I can have sex with this evening.”  Why risk ruining the night with a failed date? Just swipe.

While Sorkin’s depiction of Zuckerberg is certainly open to critique, his underlying point is sound: over time, the manner in which you interact with others changes who you are.  This is nothing new, though the mechanisms for training one in such habits are more accessible and more addictive than ever.  Moreover, this isn’t just about dating.  The lost art of dating is representative of a more widespread diminishment of the importance of human character.

features-profile-createThe issue of human character is something to which I have become especially attuned over the course of the past few years as I have built and taught a course at Notre Dame with my colleague Colleen Moore, entitled “The Character Project”.  As David Brooks argues in his recent book The Road to Character (Random House, 2015), we have come to abide in a culture where we all seem to possess “vague moral aspirations” but are generally devoid of any real “strategy to build character.”  We become expert curators of projected personality traits that contribute to a composite persona, making us akin to something like “little brand mangers”, where the brand is who we appear to be.  The separation between who one appears to be and who one actually is is often blurred and quite subtle, especially without the right categories for judging truth from near-truth or apparent-truth or, as Harry Frankfurt calls it in his famous essay on the subject, “bullshit”.  Crafting profile appearances to interact with other profile appearances—both online and off—doesn’t result from a series of rational or intentional decisions; rather, it results from a whole regimen of formative practices that sharpen some attributes while dulling others.  Swiping between the images of potential partners on a screen is one such practice: it sharpens the consumer instinct and dulls the capacity for—and even the desire for—the challenges of face-to-face human interactions where things may or may not go well. You know, like on dates.

This issue demands much more attention than what I am able to provide here. Nevertheless, I do want to point to three areas that I think serve as small antidotes to the dulling of human character and the sterilizing effects that modern practices like Tinder browsing have upon the capacity for intimacy.  I propose that the art of dating—and the art of developing human character, for that matter—requires and will benefit from the recovery of the art of conversation, the art of responsible speech, and the art of commitment.

In our Character Project course, we place a high premium on conversation.  Along with and in fact as part of the theological education in which we are involved, the students share a meal together every week, they talk about moral issues in pairs, and they gather together in small discussion groups based upon the Notre Dame residence halls in which they live (there are four halls represented in each class, by design).  We take time to talk to each other.  I don’t allow any cell phones in the classroom, which means that from the moment they walk in the room to the moment they leave, they are supposed to be as attentive as possible to the other 25 people in the room with them.  If you were to walk into one of the campus dining halls on any given night, you will find tables full of friends and acquaintances, many of whom, at one point or another, will disengage from the table conversation to gaze into their phones.  I’ve seen entire table’s worth of students looking into their devices at once, all alone together.  Then again, I’ve seen the same thing with families out to dinner at restaurants, as well as in my own living room.  Recovering the art of conversation begins with creating the conditions for conversation to emerge, for the challenges to conversation to set in (lulls, misaligned interests, fatigue), and for the skills of a conversationalist to be practiced and become habitual.

Related to but distinct from the art of conversation is the art of responsible speech.  As I have written elsewhere, irresponsible speech is “speech for which no one is personally responsible,” and which thus allows a person to say whatever they want seemingly without consequence, at least to themselves.  Speaking responsibly requires a lot more work and involves a lot more risk.  Practicing responsible speech is one of the learning objectives of the Character Project.  For example, when we study Thomas Aquinas on the question of grace and human agency, we not only attend to the content of what he says but also the way in which he constructs his argument.  When he, in the Summa, presents objections to his proposition in clear and concise terms, a model is offered for how to listen well and seek to understand others.  When he appeals to the tradition, he provides a model for allowing one’s own understanding to be enriched.  And when he offers his own response, he does at least two things at once: first, he elevates the richness of the question, refusing to give in to flat responses that are as simple as a bland ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  Second, and at the same time, he takes responsibility for a view.  He takes up the hard task of saying “I reply that…”  He stakes himself on what he says.  If what he says is wrong, then he is wrong and he will have to adjust accordingly.  When he turns in the end to respond to the objections he previously recited, he is taking responsibility for the consequences of his view and for explaining it to his interlocutors, whether they be real or imagined.  By contrast, Aaron Sorkin seems to have constructed the first 30 minutes or so of The Social Network as a narrative of increasingly irresponsible speech with a broader and broader reach.

SDHFinally, the recovery of the art of commitment is probably the most difficult and the most important dimension in recovering the art both of dating and of developing human character.  To return to Tinder, the entire edifice is constructed upon not just ease of access to potential partners but, as the article emphasizes, the virtually unfettered ability to keep options open.  There is no way around the certain fact that investing time and attention in one event or one place or one person will, inevitably, come at the expense of not being elsewhere with others.  Dinner tables filled with iPhone gazers and weekend nights narrated through Snapchat Stories are, among other things, symptomatic of the now standard Fear of Missing Out. The art of commitment develops with small strokes, beginning with sticking to commitments for projects or groups or plans you’ve made, or at least being honest about why you cannot or will not follow through when such occasions arise.  With a little prodding my students will admit to what is also true about me: when I have to get out of a commitment, I typically at least shape the explanation in such a way as to absolve myself of responsibility.  If I were honest, there are times when I just choose not to honor my commitments.  Even more, we become practiced in making commitments in advance without really considering how exactly we will follow through.  An activities fair on a college campus is as good a place as any to observe this behavior.  Practicing commitment in small matters creates the habits that contribute to becoming the kind of person who makes commitments intentionally and honors them, accepting the costs along the way.

The Tinder article is a rather dark piece, both as alluded to here and in itself. At the same time, though, the interviewees’ notes of regret and dissatisfaction registered throughout are strangely reassuring. If the “dating apocalypse” (and all it symbolizes) is troubling to readers, then what would be even more troubling would be if no one seemed to care, if everyone was satisfied with it. Yet, it seems like even those most caught up in the habitual browsing and swiping and even casual sex are, in some way, unsettled.  It really is reminiscent of that picture of Sorkin’s Zuckerberg sitting alone, longing for intimacy, but seemingly stripped of the capacity for it.  Sometimes, the good news exists as simple and confused desires, which endure even when everything seems bent against them.  Whether in classrooms, on college campuses, or at city bars, building up small cultures with particular practices that respond to those deep-seated desires—for intimacy, for companionship, for being someone—is the personal and communal work of reclaiming the importance of human character and bringing dating back from the brink.

The Musical Milieu of Mystery of Justin Roberts

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Those who are parents of young children have spent many hours watching, listening, and reading mediocre music, television, and books. Religious media for children in particular is often the worst offender. Such media reduces Christian practice to a series of moral maxims and vague awareness of divinity in the world, playing into what Christian Smith has called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Phil Vischer, a creator of Veggie Tales, in fact has apologized for his part in creating such media:

I looked back at the previous 10 years and realized I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, “Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so,” or “Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!” But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality. . . .

And that was such a huge shift for me from the American Christian ideal. We’re drinking a cocktail that’s a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we’ve intertwined them so completely that we can’t tell them apart anymore. Our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good so God will make all your dreams come true. It’s the Oprah god. So I had to peel that apart. I realized I’m not supposed to be pursuing impact, I’m supposed to be pursuing God. And when I pursue God I will have exactly as much impact as He wants me to have.

Veggie Tales and other forms of religious media for children (including far too many children bibles) reduces the mystery of what is revealed in Jesus Christ to maxims that one graduates from as you mature toward adulthood. Perhaps, a nostalgia may bring you back toward watching such media when you’re older. But, fundamentally, religion becomes a  school of elementary morals, not a milieu of mystery.

JustinRobertsThus, on a recent road trip with a toddler, it was a gift to discover the music of Justin Roberts. Justin Roberts is a children’s singer and songwriter, who also happens to have studied theology at the University of Chicago. His two-disc collection of songs from the Old Testament and New Testament (Why Not Sea Monsters) is an invitation to enter into the mystery of salvation not simply for children but for adults as well. This collection begins with a whimsical treatment of the narrative of creation in which God calls into existence all of the created order (and I do mean all of it). Yet, the climax of the tune is the creation of men and women in the image and likeness of God:

On the sixth day
Why not a vision of us
someone to reflect all this stuff
All the sparks and the seas and the birds and the trees…

Here, creation becomes a stunning moment in which God does not simply make us but shares the entirety of divine life with human beings. When we say that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, it is precisely this that is meant. Roberts introduces the narrative of creation as a divine self-gift in such a way that the adult and child listener alike is moved toward contemplative worship.

Although not written by Roberts (but Craig Wright), the collection on the Old Testament also includes a selection from the Book of Job (a children’s record that deals with Job…I know).

Where were you when I set the earth’s foundations?/Where were you when I set the stars in place?/and they all sang together/and they all sang together.

JobThis piece in particular represents the pedagogy of mystery that pervades every song, inviting the listener not toward reading the Scriptures as moralism first and foremost but immersion into the mystery of God. That human life is oriented first and foremost toward gratitude for God’s gracious divine love poured out over the created order. This song once again reaches its pinnacle in the creation of humanity:

Where were you when I crafted you a language?/And where were you when I filled your mind with words?/so you could cry, so you could sing/sprinkle names on everything/so you could laugh, tell a joke/imagine towers wreathed with smoke/so you could live and die with dignity/and shake your fist with poetry/imagining creation from the first?

This passage demonstrates that listening to Roberts’ religious music is not simply a pleasant diversion for children on car trips. Rather, it’s to find yourself contemplating the narrative of salvation anew as an adult, restoring wonder to a de-sanctified cosmos. Jesus’ miracles are described without providing a scientific explanation or attempting to find the “moral” of the story. His parables are presented without offering a definitive meaning but presented in all their contemplative wonder. Christianity is restored to its place as an encounter.

Unfortunately, it is extraordinarily difficult to find these Roberts albums (Amazon lists them both as well over $65.00). Nonetheless, they should be re-issued and be required listening for all those involved in the biblical and liturgical formation of not simply children but homilists and composers alike. The poetry of these songs should in some sense shame our homilists and composers, who too often fail to evoke the same contemplative wonder in their own crafting of words and music. If children can delight in such poetry, as offered by Roberts, why not our entire assemblies?

At the very least, making these albums more accessible will make for more pleasant car trips with toddlers for adults. And they may even offer to families an occasion to have a conversation about the very meaning of existence itself, at the same time that they clap and sing. That would be a very good thing.



Class of 2019: Go to Mass

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Today, the University of Notre Dame holds its opening of the school year Mass. Participating in this Mass since the year 2000, I have noticed a subtle trend among our student body; namely, that they are increasingly absent from this opening school year liturgy. Yet, their absence from this Mass is by no means unique. Declining Mass attendance among millennials is a persistent concern of campus ministry at Notre Dame (and the Church in general). Christian Smith, in his Young Catholic America notes that 83% of 18-23 year olds attend Mass less than once a week. And one does not need sociological data alone to notice the declining attendance of students at the Eucharist. Last year, my wife overhead two first year students, who both noted that they were looking forward to no longer attending Sunday Mass (though, they were open to weekday Masses where food was served).

Thus, if I were given an opportunity to offer a moment of exhortation to the class of 2019 at Notre Dame, it would relatively simple. Go to Mass. Indeed, I recognize there are many reasons students cease going to Mass. They may be exerting independence from their family, an opportunity to make their own way now that they no longer dwell under the roofs of their parents. They may be bristling against some of the teachings of the Church; and college is an occasion to experiment whether one actually wants to remain Catholic. Attending Mass may simply disappear as a practice within one’s life as the workload of a college education becomes too much. Time for prayer gives way to studying for exams or grabbing a quick bite to eat. Soon habits are formed, which leads one away from the Eucharistic assembly.

Yet, it is precisely in the midst of beginning one’s college career that we most need the Eucharist. We need to be present at the altar on a regular basis so that we can offer to the risen Lord the sorrows and joys that accompany the earliest days of college. We need the familiar ritual of the Eucharistic Prayer in the midst of a life in turmoil. We need to practice gratitude for all that we receive each day as a student, all that we are learning.

In the end, the heart of a Catholic education is nothing less than wisdom. The wisdom that we seek is not merely success in life; it is not becoming famous for our business acumen or our research abilities. It is the wisdom of beatitude, of a life oriented toward seeking the God who is love.

Exert your new found independence, then, by eating new foods and switching majors every couple of weeks; not skipping the Eucharist. Bring your questions about the Church to your courses in theology, to your rector or local priest. But let your questions echo inside the Church, in the context of a life of worship. And don’t let study and pursuit of perfection serve as an obstacle to your primary vocation. To become a sacrifice of praise to the living God.

In other words, go to Mass.

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, Institute for Church Life

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