Tag Archives: Catholic

365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Day 5

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

Day 5

Genesis 31:53: “Jacob sware [sic] by the Fear of his father Isaac.”

O Lord Jesus Christ, Fear of Isaac, teach us sinners, I pray Thee, to fear Thee, and much more to love Thee all the days of our life, until perfect love shall cast out fear. Amen.


365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Day 4

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

Day 4

Genesis 28:13: I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac.

O Lord Jesus Christ, God of Isaac, grant, I entreat Thee, that as at Thy Word he willingly gave himself up to die, so we may after his example offer to Thee a willing obedience, eating and drinking and doing all things to Thy Glory: and that, having lived unto Thee, we may die unto Thee. Amen.


365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Day 3

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

Day 3

Genesis 26:24

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

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


365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Day 2

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

Day 2

Genesis 15:1

I am thy Shield, and thy exceeding great Reward.


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


365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Day 1

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

Day 1

Genesis 3:15

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

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

An Interview with Anna Keating of The Catholic Catalogue

AnnaKeatingBAnna Keating

Co-Editor, The Catholic Catalogue

Editor’s Note: This article will appear in the Institute for Church Life’s journal that will be re-launched in February of 2016.   

“Being Catholic means living a life.  The practice precedes the theology.” This is the premise behind the eclectic and ever-engaging collection of multi-media material—articles, reviews, playlists, video—that makes up The Catholic Catalogue website, with a book by the same name forthcoming in 2016 (Image Press). Anna Keating runs the website and is co-author of the book alongside Melissa Musick. She is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in First Things, Salon, America, and The Denver Post, among other publications; and co-owner of Keating Woodworks, a handmade furniture studio.

Keating’s writing has often focused on what it means to be a wife and mother in the Church and the world today. The following written interview for Church Life focuses on several topics that might help to flesh out a pastoral theology of women, in the vein of Wendell Berry’s “logic of vocation.”

What are your thoughts on the oft-discussed issue of whether women today can really “have it all”, and more generally on the attempt to balance work, family, life, and faith? How does a healthy view of marriage fit in?

I’m a little uncomfortable with the expression “having it all.” Who has everything they want all the time? There are ups and down in any kind of life, especially in communal life. And suffering is also part of life. Everyone suffers, and suffering doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ve done anything wrong. Sometimes, as in childbirth, it’s just part of the process. Most of my greatest blessings have involved suffering, compromise and sacrifice. I don’t think anyone has it all, all the time, much less the perfect life that the phrase implies.

Still I do think there’s a way in which women can have rich, full, meaningful and well-rounded lives. I’m married, raising two small children, running a website, and working on a book. There are ups and downs, good days and bad days, but I feel extremely grateful to have meaningful work both as a mother and a writer. And yet, it’s an ongoing process of discovering what’s best for me and what works for my family. If you’re open to love and relationship, meaningful work and compromise, I think there’s a way in which you can have all those things.

I married when I was 23, and a year out of college. When I was 22 and feeling called to be married, I worried—more than I now like to admit—about what other people would think about my decision to marry at a relatively young age.

I read and admired writers like Hanna Rosin, who wrote in The Atlantic recently that college girls today see a serious suitor the way they did an unplanned pregnancy in the nineteenth century, “a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future.” That squared with my experience of how many of my peers felt at the time.

When I was 22 it bothered me that getting married young made me look less ambitious in other people’s eyes. It was difficult when people I admired, my professors and peers, voiced concern. My grandmother said, “I thought you wanted to be a writer.” I know good people worried that I wouldn’t be able to “have it all,” both rewarding work, and a husband and a family.

But there is nothing unambitious, in my mind, about wanting to be in loving, meaningful relationships, married or single. Those take time and effort too. They don’t just happen, any more than a good job just happens. And the quality of our relationships and friendships, to a great extent, determine the quality of our lives.

Too often I think we assume that a “successful” life for young women needs to follow a script, or that the measure of success is income, or status. According to the current script, the twenties are supposed to be a time of professional achievement as a single person, and then in one’s thirties career-minded people are supposed to suddenly settle down and have one or two kids, while still pursuing their careers with the same intensity. I didn’t want to live my life, holding the person I loved the most at arm’s length, or waiting for the socially acceptable time to make a commitment. There is no good time to get married or have kids.

Right after graduating from Notre Dame, I tried, briefly, to follow the script. I moved 700 hundred miles away from my then boyfriend, to take a job at a magazine in New York, but we were both unhappy with the distance. One day I was walking around Midtown with a co-worker and complaining about having met the right person “too soon” when he set me straight. He said, “So you feel sorry for yourself because you’ve found what most people are looking for, before anyone else has found it.”  The next day I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself. I quit my job and starting making plans to move back to South Bend, knowing that I would need to find a job there and that this would mean getting married sooner rather than later. For me, that was the right decision. It complicated my life, because it introduced a husband, and eventually kids, into the equation, and I had to find work in South Bend, but it also meant being myself instead of trying to be someone else.

The lives of people I admire are often messy and meandering. When I met the right person, I had a lot of dreams, but I didn’t have a plan for my life. Neither one of us had a “career” when we got married, but we promised to help each other, and support each other, as best we could, as we figured out how to be married, how to be parents, and how to pay our bills together. It wasn’t always smooth sailing, but it wouldn’t have been smooth sailing if we had been single either. I just dove in and put my relationship first, and then worked out my career as I went along, and eventually things started falling into place on the professional side.

For most people, it’s an ongoing struggle to try to balance all the work that goes into creating a life, especially if you have children. In my case, it helps to have support. For example, I rely a lot on my in-laws who watch my kids, including a seven-month-old, two days a week while I write the book. They have done so much for me. The modern idea of family is so small; it’s usually just the nuclear family, or just the couple. It helps to cast a broader net and to live closer to extended family, or close community, even when that complicates the picture in terms of added responsibilities.

Looking back, I wish I could tell my 22-year-old self not to worry. I’ve been married for seven years and have two children. My kids and my husband are my greatest blessings, but I’m also very grateful for my work, first as a teacher, and now as a writer. I’m finishing a book on Catholic spirituality and practice with my mom, Melissa Musick, which will come out in 2016 from Image (the Catholic imprint of Penguin Random House), and working on this project has been a dream come true.

Instead of “having it all” I think more about taking turns and supporting each other. I was a teacher and supported my husband when he was in graduate school. He now makes and designs furniture and has supported me both financially and emotionally as I’ve been working on The Catholic Catalogue. So, we’ve just had to rely on one another and be patient with the unfolding of our lives. (I say this as an extremely impatient person. It’s something I’m learning.)

Wendell Berry once said that the logic of vocation is very different from the logic of career. And I think that’s true. He says, “You must refuse to accept the common delusion that a career is an adequate context for a life. The logic of success insinuates that self-enlargement is your only responsibility, and that any job, any career will be satisfying if you succeed in it. But I can tell you, on the authority of much evidence, that a lot of people highly successful by that logic are painfully dissatisfied. I can tell you further that you cannot live in a career, and that satisfaction can come only from your life. To give satisfaction, your life will have to be lived in a family, a neighborhood, a community . . . to which you belong.”

That has been true for me. We’re called to be faithful to our callings as Christians, and keep at it, not necessarily to be successful. And vocations are not just about the work you get paid to do, they’re about being who you are called to be. Being a mother or father is incredibly important and meaningful work. Many men and women feel called to be parents but they don’t know what to do with that longing because it doesn’t make sense in terms of the logic of career alone. It’s not about making more money or traveling the world. It means living a sort of monk-like existence when your children are small, and it’s not something you can put on your CV. But, there are a lot of amazing things in life that you can’t put on your CV.

Looking back, my twenties were a time of growth and discovery, but it was self-discovery in relationship: with my husband, my students, my children, family, and friends. At the end of the day, for men and women, even if you’re called to be single, I think you often have to make your relationships a priority.

 How has your identity as a Catholic woman (and your understanding of it) developed throughout your own history?

When I was younger I identified as a Catholic feminist. As I’ve grown, I think of myself less in terms of those categories.

I’m just a Catholic, someone in need of God’s mercy and the sacraments. That doesn’t mean there aren’t larger issues that still need to be addressed in terms of the role of women in the Church, because there are, but my identity as “just a Catholic,” has its roots, I think, in the way I was raised. I never felt like a second-class Catholic because I was a girl. My sisters and I were baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ just like our brothers were. We were all baptized “priest, prophet, and king.” I was raised to believe that men and women weren’t just equal; they were both of infinite value.

What are the biggest obstacles facing Christian women who seek a robust vocation today, on a larger cultural level?

 The Church is a slow-moving institution. This is good at times, but it can be challenging at other times. The Church needs to continue to work to include women’s voices. Some Catholics don’t know what to do with laywomen, or even women religious, in leadership. And of course, we don’t have enough women in leadership positions in the Church. I would love to see women returned to the diaconate, for example.

But Pope Francis is working on the need for female leadership in the Church. He’s said, “The feminine genius is needed whenever we make important decisions.” And it’s clear that he’s been trying to make changes, for instance, by appointing the first woman, Sr. Luzia Premoli, to a Vatican Congregation. But clearly the work is ongoing.

Still, most of the issues on the day-to-day level in the Church are people problems, not theological problems. There are some people in leadership who don’t know how to relate to women, and perhaps, don’t want to hear their stories.

On the parish level, we need people who are more loving and compassionate to one another, who are willing to listen and learn, and to pass on the faith in all its fullness. If you have a loving community, as a Catholic woman, you feel valued and appreciated. If you have a pastor who treats women like children, of course, you feel undervalued.

What do women need to hear and see more of from their pastors and parish leaders?

Pastors and parish leaders need to be open to women’s gifts. I have a wonderful priest, Fr. Drew Gawrych, CSC, who came up to me at a church picnic and asked me to get involved in a mother’s group at our parish, after some women in the community told him they thought there was a need. He introduced me to a lot of wonderful and holy women that I wouldn’t otherwise have known in my church.

I think the Church needs more pastors like him—men who are comfortable with women in various roles, and who are responsive to the needs of women in their communities. Fr. Drew often has women speak, sharing their conversion stories from RCIA, for example. And I have learned so much from hearing these women’s stories at Mass. It’s been a gift. And I could mention many other priests I’ve known who are like him.

When I was growing up, my home diocese, the diocese of Colorado Springs, had a wonderful bishop, Richard Hanifen. He played a crucial role in my faith formation and decision to remain Catholic. I’ll never forget what a humble and gracious man he was. He welcomed my questions about women priests, for example, and we used to have wonderful, if spirited, discussions. He never made me feel like the Church was afraid of dialogue, and he treated me like I mattered, even though I was all of sixteen at the time.

When I was in high school my mother was the Catholic campus minister at Colorado College. I’ll never forget how Bishop Hanifen would sit in the back of Shove Chapel and listen to her speak. He was a Bishop in the spirit of Pope Francis, truly a servant of the Servants of God, be they male or female. He knew how lead, but he also knew how to listen. The Church needs more women in leadership, but it also needs more priests and bishops like Drew Gawrych and Richard Hanifen.

Also on this grander scale, what unique, positive aspects about being a Catholic woman are worth acknowledging and fleshing out?

One of the things I love most about being a Catholic woman are the ways in which the Church honors and remembers the holy women who have gone before us. Of course, Catholics have a special devotion to Mary the Mother of God, and Mary Magdalene, the Apostle to the Apostles, but all the women saints play a crucial role and are honored by the Church.

When I was a kid I chose Teresa of Avila to be my confirmation saint. I liked that she had a big personality and said funny things like, “May God protect me from gloomy saints.”

Teresa of Avila demonstrated to me that the Church valued strong and intelligent women. She founded seventeen convents, wrote four books, is considered one of the masters of Christian prayer, and is a Doctor of the Church.

As a kid, I liked that she was feminine and joyful, that she was known to dance while playing the castanets.

As an adult, my relationship with Teresa changed and deepened. I became more inspired by her recognition of her own sinfulness and the need for continual conversion. The idea that God is calling each of us to holiness and that for each of us that will look like becoming more fully ourselves. Also, Teresa’s life bears witness to the fact that we can experience some measure of God’s love in prayer.

Your online project, The Catholic Catalogue, is described as “a field guide to the daily acts that make up a Catholic life.” Can you tell us more about it—i.e. its scope, its future, and what makes it an important contribution to the current conversation?

Sure. The Catholic Catalogue: A Field Guide to the Daily Acts That Make Up A Catholic Life, will be released by Image Press in 2016. It’s an illustrated field guide, designed to help the reader identify and celebrate both the seasons of life—from birth to death, baptism to funeral—and the seasons of the Church year.

When I was growing up my parents brought the feasts and fasts of the liturgical year into our home. It was strange and lovely to grow up in a home in which the passage of time was imbued with such meaning and significance. It wasn’t just one thing after another. Life was a journey, onward to meet Jesus. We were, as St. John Paul II said, “Wayfarers, pilgrims of the Absolute.”

I went to public school for K–12, so I knew other kids weren’t being forced to pray around the Advent wreath or fast on Good Friday, but when I went to college, I discovered that other Catholics hadn’t grown up with some of these traditions either. I didn’t know many students at Notre Dame who had chanted night prayer, or visited monasteries, or protested nuclear weapons with Catholic Workers, or kept St. Lucy’s day with breakfast in bed.

And yet, despite the absence of tradition in their lives, the people around me had a deep longing for spirituality and tradition—especially as friends began to start families, in their thirties. It wasn’t uncommon to see someone on Facebook ask, “We’re looking to start some family traditions. Any ideas?” Most people, who were nominally Catholic or seeking, had no idea where to begin. The traditions of their Polish, Vietnamese, German or Irish great-grandparents had been lost. That question: “How do I begin?” was the germ of the idea for The Catalogue, both the website and the book.

Because of the way I was brought up, my experience of being Catholic has always meant living a life. Being Catholic was and is more than just a serious of intellectual assents or political talking points. The practice preceded the theology (and the politics).

But it’s clear that many of the ancient customs of the Church—eating together, going on pilgrimage, keeping watch with the sick, attending births and deaths and keeping days and seasons—have been overshadowed by the demands of contemporary life. We’ve lost some of the richness of what it means to live a Catholic life. There are literally thousands of practices that can help us transform our hearts and give us some measure of wonder and peace.

I’ve spent the last couple of years learning about these practices for the book and I feel more connected to my faith as a result of incorporating many of them into my life.

Why do we make Confessions? What is a Byzantine Fast? How do I pray with icons? How does someone discover a vocation? What’s the deal with abbey ale or Catholic tattoos or consecrated virgins? In trying to answer these questions, and others, for the website and the book, I’ve also been answering them for myself. The goal of The Catholic Catalogue, both the website and the book project, was to help people make room in their busy lives for mystery and awe, meaning and joy, whether they’re encountering Catholic spirituality and culture for the first time or have been steeped in it.

I’ve been fortunate to work with other Catholic women on the project. My co-author, Melissa Musick, is a columnist for National Catholic Reporter, and our illustrator, Chau Nguyen, is a friend who also graduated from Notre Dame in 2006. So it’s been a collaborative process. We’ve also been very fortunate to work with our editor, Gary Jansen, on the manuscript. And our readers online (we have about 60,000 followers on Facebook) have been wonderful, offering support, asking questions, sharing posts, even giving interviews about their experiences with some of these faith traditions, many of which will be included in the book. It seems like there’s a hunger for something positive that moves beyond left/right categories.

I think The Catalogue is an important contribution to the ongoing conversation, because it emphasizes diverse practices and the ”way” of faith, and de-emphasizes the divisions, which often receive too much attention, especially online.

Christian Hope and the Holy Souls

Laura TaylorLaura Taylor 

House of Brigid

Wexford, Ireland

“Ego sum lux mundi,” read the ancient words of Christ engraved in the weathered, grey stone above the high altar of St. Colman’s church in the quiet country parish of Ballindaggin, County Wexford, Ireland. “I am the light of the world.”

St. Colman's Church, BallindagginI was there to pay my respects for a deceased relative of a nun with whom I had become quite close over the last year. Following traditional Irish funeral observances, it seemed like the inhabitants of the entire village had packed the church for the customary removal service. These traditional Catholic prayers recited at the church in the evenings before funerals are about as ingrained in the Irish consciousness as their love for piping hot tea, spuds, the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association), and commiserating about the weather. We were there to pray fervently for the commendation of this dearly departed soul to heaven, that she would in turn pray unceasingly for us from there with the eternal communion of saints, in the company of Christ and our Blessed Mother.Removal Pic 2

No instructions were given at any point in the ceremony about when to sit, kneel, or stand; the people around me just knew.

The parish priest sprinkled holy water over the casket, and the moment the prayers were finished, everyone leapt from their seats in a rush to shake the hands of the grieving family members, while the many conversations among the mourners elevated the noise level in the church to a dull roar. Our religious duties accomplished, we spilled out of the mid-19th century church–the men headed straight to the village pub, the women congregated outside for the latest gossip, and I strolled pensively around the small cemetery nestled against the church walls, waiting for my companions to emerge so we could make the hour’s journey home.

As we remember the souls of the faithful departed in this month of November, I find myself increasingly struck by the visceral manner in which the Irish honor, mourn, and think about the dead. Carlingford ChurchFamilies and local communities band together immediately following the death of a loved one: they fill normally-empty church pews to the brim in order to somberly commemorate “anniversary Masses,” and to pray en masse for the deceased at removal services, wakes, and funerals. Conversations about death in Ireland are quite open–almost bruisingly candid–and happen over a cup of tea, in the street, or out at the pub. The famed Irish wakes still happen–albeit less often now, due to the rising popularity of funeral homes–and are completely unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The open casket lies in state in the family’s living room, mourners sit in chairs around the body and take turns swapping humorous or emotional stories about the deceased, and a seemingly endless supply of scalding hot tea and coffee, and freshly-baked cakes and scones in the adjoining rooms provides much-needed spiritual and bodily nourishment, and still more cathartic conversation.irish_wake_paintingThere is a freshness in the Irish perspective towards death and dying, however unsettling it may be to a young American in her mid-twenties, who, before moving to Ireland, had attended only a couple funerals–all with closed caskets, all conducted as swiftly and discreetly as possible, the reality of death too uncomfortable for the American psyche. In Ireland, though, I see the true embodiment of Christian hope lived out each day; even in the throes of sorrow and grief, death here is no frightening spectre, but an almost-friend–a constant, quiet companion on life’s journey.

Here, mourning is a public act, and the healing process truly is communal. Churches see their numbers swell dramatically in the month of November in Ireland, as the annual remembrance of the dead draws people from all walks of life–the old, the young, the rich and poor, Travellers and settled, the faithful, and, surprisingly, those who have drifted away from the Church. They are all connected in their grief, and their desire to remember the ones they have lost. The liturgies of this month in particular somehow seem to tap into the deepest recesses of the heart, compelling all of us to congregate, remember, and pray for our loved ones, that they might, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.vigil at maynoothPope Francis’ namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, tenderly refers to death as a sister: “Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no one living can escape.” There is an inexplicable comfort in this Month of the Holy Souls here in Ireland, for alongside the heartache of loss accompanies a lingering sense of peace, and hope.  

The Local Renewal of Family Life: Marriage Formation

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

Some years ago, I heard John Allen give a talk in which he was asked when the bishops of the Church would institute some particular reform that the questioner found important for ecclesial renewal. Allen responded by reminding the entire audience that it is not the primary ministry of the bishops to “renew” the Church. That the body of bishops gathered in Rome at the Vatican is fundamentally a “conservative” one (for good reason) and for that reason ecclesial renewal is best accomplished through charisms of both lay and ordained Catholics, who renew their parish at the local level. St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena, and Dorothy Day were not participants in a Synod of bishops sponsored by the Vatican. Yet, their witness to holiness has renewed the Church for countless generations.

While not belittling in the least the gathering of bishops in Rome over the coming weeks, it is important to remember that the renewal of family life will not ultimately be accomplished by the Apostolic Exhortation that follows the Synod. Nor for that matter will the Synod lead to doctrinal development around marriage itself, specifically related to divorce (although reading secular media’s portrayal of this ordinary Synod, either conservative or liberal, you get a sense that this is the purpose of the entire gathering). The orientation of this particular Synod is the pastoral state of family life and marriage in the present not simply Western world. The document preparing for this Synod notes:

Today’s society is characterized by a variety of tendencies. Only a minority of people lives, supports and encourages the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage and the family, seeing in it the goodness of God’s creative plan. Marriages, whether religious or not, are decreasing in number, while separation and divorce is on the rise. People are becoming increasingly aware of the dignity of every person — man, woman and child — and the importance of different ethnic groups and minorities, which — already widespread in many societies, not only in the West — are becoming prevalent in many countries.

In various cultures young people are displaying a fear to make definitive commitments, including a commitment concerning a family. In general, an extreme individualism, increasingly becoming widespread, focuses uppermost on gratifying desires which do not lead to total personal fulfilment.

The development of a consumer society has separated sexuality from procreation. This fact is also one of the underlying causes of an increasing decline in the birth rate, which, in some places, is related to poverty or the inability to care for children; and in others, to the unwillingness to accept responsibility and to the idea that children might infringe on freely pursuing personal goals.

The Synod on the Family is concerned about ways of responding in mercy to those who have experienced divorce. But it is at least equally concerned about a crisis of commitment; about the separation of sexuality from self-gift; about the decline of marriage as a whole; and the poverty that makes family life difficult throughout the world. Bishops, though having teaching authority in the Church, can only do so much about the “crisis” of family life in this broader sense. For this reason, what is most needed is renewal from the ground-up.

Thus over the coming weeks, I will be introducing three things that a parish might do, which will in the end be more important for ecclesial renewal than the Synod itself. These three things include a renewal of marriage formation, seeing the family itself as agent of mission, and ministering to those on the margins in particular.

A Renewal of Marriage Formation

ChauvetLouis-Marie Chauvet notes that one of the consequences of the renewal of the rites of the Second Vatican Council is a clash between an anthropological reason for asking for a sacrament and the liturgical-sacramental reason presumed by the Church. He writes:

Whereas the ritual of baptism, for instance, proclaims that baptism is the sacrament of the faith in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, numerous people who ask for the sacraments are faraway from this faith that they have not just forgotten everything they learned in catechism but in many cases believe only in a vague deism, when they have not reached a sort of practical atheism. The least one can say is that the ‘system of the practice,’ the faith content which theoretically precedes the practice, is in disharmony, even in contradiction with the ‘practice of the system,’ the request addressed tot he church for the sacraments (The Sacraments: The Word of God At the Mercy of the Body, 175-76).

For example, it is likely that a couple approaches a parish looking to participate in the rite of marriage for reasons that include parents’ who insist that they be married in the Church; because the parish provides a proper aesthetic background for marking this occasion; because they have a vague sense that the Church should be part of this momentous occasion. And on and on. Yet, the Church’s own theology of marriage assumes (or hopes) that the couple comes to the sacrament out of faith–because the couple desires their union to become an image to the world of Christ’s love for the Church.

These are competing narratives, neither of which may be dismissed with ease. Catholicism has continually baptized “anthropological” reasons for receiving a sacrament. Still, it is ultimately dishonest to undervalue the Church’s robust sense of marriage for the sake of welcoming couples (with the vague hope that the rite will have its effect no matter what). Marriage formation requires acknowledging and purifying the anthropological reasons for approaching the sacrament, while also announcing the nuptial kerygma at the heart of the liturgical rite.

For this reason, marriage formation will have a three-fold character.

Social and Cultural Analysis of One’s Own Assumptions Around Marriage

RiteofMarriageMuch is presumed on the part of the marrying couple about the nature of the marriage that they are preparing to undertake. Their own cultural view of marriage may be informed by a nearly impossible standard of personal and social happiness that marriage brings about (“you complete me”). They may imagine that the universe has placed a single person in their lives whom they are destined to marry; and thus if they find themselves attracted to another person, then they must move on. On an individual level, they may not acknowledge how their own view of marriage is shaped (or misshaped) by their parents. They may imagine that their love is the most “unique” love in the world, such that there will be nothing in the world that would rip them apart (there is; it’s called sin).

For this reason, the first thing that marriage formation must do is to invite the couple to consider those assumptions that serve as potential obstacles to the sacrament of marriage. In fact, this cultural analysis should begin not when the couple has come for marriage but should be apart of the kind of formation for marriage that begins in adolescence. And should continue even after the marriage has taken place. Approaches to marriage formation that simply build communication skills around finance, child-rearing, etc. without dealing with these problematic assumptions is akin to building an earthquake proof structure on top of a rotten foundation.

Of course, the way to address these cultural assumptions is not to tell the couple how wrong they are. Rather, marriage formation at whatever stage should invite the couple to come to see marriage anew alongside the Church’s ministers. It must invite the couple or the adolescent into a form of apprenticeship in which well-formed families provide the counter-narrative that is ultimately healing.

In good parishes, this happens organically. When I think about the four years that we spent in Boston as a married couple, I cannot help but think about Peg and Bill LaRoche. During our first years of marriage, the LaRoche’s manifested to us what hospitality looked like; how to love one another in the midst of suffering; how to serve the poor as apart of one’s married life. These years of informal formation were integral to discerning what it meant for us to be infertile. How our infertility could become to the world as gift of love instead of a disease affecting only us. The assumptions that we had about the ease of marriage were transformed by the LaRoche’s who said little. But provided us an icon of sacrament love that was purifying.

Proclaiming the Kerygma

LoveAt present, one rarely hears the Church’s proclamation of the Good News of marriage, even in homilies for the Rite of Marriage itself. These homilies tend to devolve into a panegyric of the uniqueness of this couple’s love. That this marriage, above all others, will survive the test of time because this couple shares in common a love of hiking, of singing, of whatever was discerned during the preparation for the sacrament.

Yet, this kind of strategy is to place the focus of the rite of marriage not on God’s activity but upon the couple’s. The Good News of marriage (as in all the sacraments) is that this human relationship, this mundane reality of love, this particular history, is precisely one of the ways that God has chosen to save humanity.

O God, who consecrated the bond of Marriage

by so great a mystery

that in the wedding covenant you foreshadow

the Sacrament of Christ and the Church,

grant, we pray, to these your servants,

that what they receive in faith

they may live out in deeds.

The couple is to present to the world a sacrament of divine love not simply at the moment of their nuptial consecration. Rather, they mediate to the world the love of Christ and the Church in the context of their relationship, of their family life, of their vocation to serve one another.

The family created out of this union, present already before children are born (if they are to be born), is a blessing and responsibility to the Church. It is the entire Church, particularly at the parish level, that is responsible for assisting this couple in fulfilling their vocation. The kerygma of marriage, the proclamation of Good News, means that we are responsible for one another. That we must be in solidarity with all families, especially those on the margins (a topic to be dealt with later).

The kerygma of marriage is thus not an instrument to bludgeon the couple with. Rather, it is a reminder to the whole Church that the sacrament of marriage is a vocation that each of us is responsible for. Do we open new couples into our home? Do we provide a space in our parish that acknowledges the difficulty of this vocation, rather than holding up some idealized 50s vision of what family life consists of?

The Mission of Family Life

FamiliesservingPerhaps, the area where family formation is most impoverished around the sacrament of marriage is the dearth of attention paid to the responsibility of “mission” in married life, a theme that I will treat more fully in a later piece. Marriage, like all other sacraments, is not simply for those who receive sacramental grace. Rather, marriage is for the world. As the document preparing for the Synod notes, the mission of the family is one of tenderness:

Tenderness means to give joyfully and, in turn, to stir in another person the joy of feeling loved. Tenderness is expressed in a particular way in looking at another’s limitations in a loving way, especially when they clearly stand out. Dealing with delicacy and respect means attending to wounds and restoring hope in such a way as to revitalize trust in the other. Tenderness in family relationships is the virtue which helps people overcome the everyday conflicts within a person and in relations with others. In this regard, Pope Francis invites everyone to reflect on his words: “Do we have the courage to welcome with tenderness the difficulties and problems of those who are near to us, or do we prefer impersonal solutions, perhaps effective but devoid of the warmth of the Gospel? How much the world needs tenderness today! The patience of God, the closeness of God, the tenderness of God.”(Homily for the Midnight Mass on the Solemnity of Christmas, 24 December 2014).

The virtue of tenderness cultivated among spouses, among siblings is very same virtue that incarnates Christ’s love for the world. A family whose tenderness moves out to the margins, to the unloved, is perhaps the most effective agent of evangelization in the modern world.

I have seen this in my own recent vocation to adopted fatherhood. In spending time with my son, I have learned the virtue of tenderness in a way that I have never known before. I have learned of the smallness of my own heart, how quickly I am annoyed by my son’s cry for attention. I have discovered how I am opened ever more deeply to prayer by watching my son kiss an icon. I am now far more cognizant of the needs of my undergraduate students, fatherhood making me more deeply attuned to the care I must offer to the sorrows and joys that make up their life.

Family life has formed me anew for Christian mission in a way that nothing else could. The pastoral care of all families, for this reason, is not simply one aspect of the Church’s mission. Rather, it is the privileged way of renewing the Church in the vocation toward self-gift, which is at the heart of evangelization. If marriage formation does not begin with this sense of mission as the end goal, then it is impoverished from the beginning.


Blessings from the Balcony to Heal the Heart of a Nation

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Vision and Student Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more from Leonard @leodelo2.

Reading the Code: Pope Francis’ Speech to Congress

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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

Yesterday’s Homily: Christo-centric Mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Interruption of the Unborn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Follow Timothy P. O’Malley @NDLiturgyCenter