Tag Archives: Eucharist

Make of Our Hearts a Home

unnamedMegan Shepherd

Associate Director, Notre Dame Vision 

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We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy.

It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it.

Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, 2.

In Pope Francis’ proclamation of the Year of Mercy, he invites us all to “gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives.” As I began to contemplate the mystery of God’s mercy in preparation for the Year of Mercy, I pondered the question: “How can I better respond to the gift of God’s mercy in my own life?” As I prayed, my attention was drawn ever more deeply to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy – the practices of enacting and proclaiming God’s mercy through concrete acts of love.

Thinking of ways that I could incorporate the works of mercy into my life, I came up with ideas involving volunteering at the local homeless drop-in shelter, helping sort and deliver food from the parish food bank, donating clothes and household goods. All good ideas, but in the busyness I let fill my days they remained that – just ideas.

An impediment to practicing mercy is our lack of awareness and attentiveness to the needs of others. We can become so wrapped up in the challenges of our day-to-day lives – even lives of discipleship and ministry – that we become blind to the realities of pain and struggle around us.

Earlier this summer, I witnessed a moment of God’s mercy at work transforming a young man’s heart in the reception of the Eucharist that I reflected on in a previous post. As I prayed with this encounter, I experienced a profound renewal of my call to serve as an Eucharistic minister and I committed to regularly serving at my parish’s Sunday liturgy.

As I would distribute communion each week – to the elders of the parish, teens with sleep in their eyes, families with young children clinging to their legs, adults attending alone – I felt my heart continue to grow in love for the entire people of God, the diverse members of the community gathered together each Sunday in the pews. And during the times that I would need to go out into the congregation to those who could not come forward due to physical limitations, I felt an even stronger bond with the parish family.

044a70b7-a5e5-4f6f-b09d-ecf241ca71b5Then I returned home, back to my normal routine and my attempts to practice the corporal works of mercy on my own terms, according to my own plan. And the good intentions were overshadowed by excuses of “I’m too busy this week” or “I’m sure they have enough help.” Yet each week as I received and shared the Body of Christ, God slowly chipped away at the hardness of my heart, transforming my heart more closely into the Heart of Christ, a heart poured out in love unto death in mercy for the world.

The mercy of God penetrated into the closed-off space of my heart, shattering the limitations I had placed upon my ability to show mercy. God hollowed out space for me to allow God to “make of my heart a home.” It is my Eucharistic vocation to share the grace of mercy that I have received, to go forth and practice mercy, to offer myself in love.806cbaf6-5233-45db-bdad-2681fc7ce7ef

One day, when I heard the priest announce they were in need of people to take the Eucharist to those members of the parish community who were unable to attend mass, I felt a pull within me to respond. If I am to become that which I receive, if I am to be transformed into Eucharist for the world, and I take that seriously, it troubles me that there are those unable to participate in the Eucharistic celebration, those homebound due to illness or infirmity.

I contacted the priest and was paired with an older couple who had been long-time parishioners, but with the wife’s recent diagnosis and decline was no longer able to leave the house for mass. Due to the seriousness of her illness, there was a chance that her condition would quickly deteriorate, and that I may only be visiting with them for a short time. My Eucharistic vocation to share the mercy I received lead me to the corporal work of mercy of “visiting the sick.”

7d5ba0f5-757d-4d1e-bef9-68e98f47ab5aIn my parish, at the end of the communion rite the priest places the host in the pyx, and those ministering to the homebound come forward. Each week I would stand with the pyx on my open hand as the priest sent us forth with a blessing. I would take hold of the pyx, grasping it in my hand throughout the final blessing, the concluding rites and closing song. Then I would head straight out to my car for the five-minute drive to their house.

My visits usually consisted of a few minutes of conversation about Notre Dame football with her husband, and she would join in if she felt up to it. But often her energy level was very low, so we would move into a simplified rite in continuity with the celebration of the liturgy just concluded.

? Peace be with this house and with all who live here.

 Lord Jesus, you healed the sick: Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, you forgave sinners: Christ, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, you give us yourself to heal us and bring us strength: Lord, have mercy.

I held aloft the body of our crucified savior, whose wounds are transfigured in the glory of the resurrection.

 The Body of Christ.

            Amen.

As I placed the host in her mouth I prayed, not for healing – which was unlikely at that point – but for wholeness. For a sense of peace and solidarity in the midst of suffering and pain.

 All-powerful God, we thank you for the nourishment you give us through your holy gift. Pour out your Spirit upon us and in the strength of this food from heaven, keep us single minded in your service. We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.

As I left each Sunday, I sat in my car for a few moments before driving away to say a short prayer of thanksgiving for the movement of God’s mercy in my life that brought me to that moment, that couple, that grace.14d26c54-a76a-4dd5-8cfe-bdd1da67a379

One Sunday as I prepared to drive over after mass, I checked my phone to find a voicemail from her husband saying I didn’t need to come over as she was not doing well, and they were preparing for her death. Two days later I received word that she had passed away.

We had not spoken much during my visits due to her health, but were able to communicate about the most essential truth – the merciful love of God. She made the final journey through suffering nourished by his Body and comforted by the hope of the resurrection.

When I attended her funeral, God wasn’t finished teaching me about the boundless expanse of mercy. Due to the number of people present, I was asked to serve as an Eucharistic Minister, sharing once more the Bread of Life, this time with her friends and family gathered to say farewell. As I looked into her husband’s eyes, I witnessed the depths of his grief, but also the hope of the resurrection. What began as sharing the Eucharist at mass lead me to enter her home with the gift of Christ’s Body from the family gathered at the parish and ultimately to accompany her on her journey to her final home. My Eucharistic vocation to share the mercy I received led me to corporal work of mercy of “burying the dead.”

God’s mercy continues to work within me. God “makes of my heart a home,” a home of mercy and love that goes forth into the world. In my brokenness I am a vessel transmitting the gift I have received through concrete actions in response to the needs of the world. And in the action, the practice of mercy, I become merciful.

Make of our hands a throne

to hold the Bread of heaven,

make of our hearts a home

to hold the very wine of life.

In this myst’ry, Lord, make us one with you.

Come to the Yeast

MLewisMadeline Lewis ’17

Theology and English

Undergraduate Fellow, Center for Liturgy

San Francisco is a city for bread-lovers if there ever was one. Scores of bakeries line the city streets, each offering particularly unique loaves to particularly devoted sets of locals. The story of San Francisco bread is a story of the search for hidden treasure. In the mid-1800s, the San Francisco area was abuzz with the pursuit of gold, and bread was an obvious staple for miners on their way to the gold fields. However, in these early mining years, a curious complication arose in the rising bread. Bakers found that the recipes that had resulted in familiar loaves back home garnered different, sour-tasting bread when baked in the San Francisco climate. However, curiously, this unexpected sourness wasn’t necessarily a bad thing: it lent a richness to the bread that began to be especially cherished by the miners in search of gold. This treasured bread became the sourdough bread that we build our sandwiches upon today.

A little while ago, on a warm evening at the beginning of the semester, I was standing on the edge of St. Mary’s lake with my boyfriend. He was peacefully silent, staring out, when all of sudden he started to sniff. He sniffed, and he proclaimed, excitedly: “It smells like good bread!” Of course, I made fun of him at the time. For one thing, I didn’t smell anything that smelled like good bread, only the slight stench of the lake and perhaps the crispness of leaves. I also laughed at his specific insistence that the smell was of “good” bread, and not just your average, ordinary loaf. And so, in the weeks following, I took to periodically exclaiming that it smelled like good bread outside as a small joke that I derived far too much pleasure from.

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I’ve never been to San Francisco, and until about a week ago I’d never read about their thriving bread culture. Learning about this small and wonderful story has been just one result of a fascination with bread that has slowly been growing as the semester has unfolded: a fascination that I can’t help but attribute to that moment by the lake. I totally understand that most people don’t spend their free time watching Youtube videos about how bread is made, voraciously reading lists of the best bakeries in the world, or compulsively cataloguing all the puns that can be made out of the word “yeast”. But lately, bread has been rising up everywhere I look, and it’s made me wonder: what does it mean to look at the world around us and smell bread? And what does it mean to insist upon the distinction that this bread is good?

TheLastSupper

To see our lives in the process of baking would be to trust that we are being kneaded, molded, and warmed into selves that will nourish others. It would mean trusting that a careful Baker is forming our lives with great care, and that we are destined to rise. Perhaps it might also call for a vision of our own unexpected sournesses not as bad but good, with faith that our struggles and sorrows will lend a richness to the dough: a dough that is baking slowly into bread that we have been promised will be. Of course, this is no easy feat, because to look at the world around us and proclaim the smell of good bread is to proclaim all of the aspects of our lives as gift.

To see the world in the process of baking is our challenge as Christians, and the source and summit of this vision of creation is the Eucharist, God’s life-giving bread.

Baking is a process, and at times we may feel that our place in the process is closer to the beginning mayhem of a flour-splattered counter than the ending of a perfect fresh-baked loaf. But each time we come to the Eucharistic feast, we are reminded to praise the process: to proclaim our gratitude for the love of Christ which is molding us into loving loaves through even the messiness and the mayhem. Through the Eucharist, we discover how we are called to look at creation and proclaim that it is good: that it smells like good bread. For, when we receive Christ’s Eucharistic offering, we begin to see all of the aspects of our lives as great gifts of love. Truly, the smell of good bread is everywhere, if our hearts lead our noses to pick up the sacred smell of Christ’s sacrifice of love.

Follow Madeline on Twitter @madlew4

Rooted and Grounded in Love

Ellie Norby
Ellie Norby
Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith (2014)
University of Notre Dame,
Class of 2016

During my sophomore year of high school, I thought I had the basics down.  God loves us:  check. He should be worshiped in Mass and prayer:  check. He wants us to live according to the example set by His son: check.

But beyond the basics, I didn’t realize God cared about the details of my life – so when I was tested by the news of my parents’ intention to divorce, I couldn’t trust Him. When my family was dragged through a cycle of indecision that lasted from 10th grade until I left for college, I assumed my problems where too small for someone that listened to a gazillion prayers every day. My dad would decide he wanted to leave my mom, but stay because of the kids; my mom would convince him to work on the marriage, but they would not get along because my dad clearly wanted out. Then the whole thing would start over again.

As the only daughter, I was getting a huge share of the emotional splash. Life was messy, and I was bitter. I felt that my problems were strictly of human origin and would only be solved when the adults figured themselves out. I did not believe that God was a part of my life. Even though my mom encouraged me to trust Him, God seemed uninvolved in the gradual collapse of my family.

Although I couldn’t see it, I now believe that God was working in my life the whole time. His grace led me to keep seeking him, even though Mass and prayer led me nowhere. His Spirit helped me to attempt to trust, even though it seemed hopeless. His love allowed me to continue to care for my parents and my brothers, even when my bitterness made the situation miserable.  And then, after years of just surviving, God moved in my life so that I could finally see his presence.

In October of my freshman year of college, my mother (who I already worried about because of the divorce and her empty nest status) developed a freak intestinal condition and spent four weeks in the hospital. She faced two emergency surgeries, an infection, no eating or drinking whatsoever, and loneliness. All this was happening to her while I was nine hours away, so I couldn’t be with her! The situation was so far out of human control, I finally brought my problems to God. It was not my mom’s fault, or my dad’s fault, or my fault – it just happened, so God allowed me to turn to him. I prayed for her healing, and most of all I begged that she would feel God’s presence in my absence. Slowly, she started to get better. I couldn’t tell if her improvement was from God or the power of medicine, but I could not deny what happened when she finally got permission to eat after three weeks of nothing more than IVs.

eucharistTwenty minutes after the doctor gave her the okay, a volunteer knocked on the hospital room door and asked if she wanted to receive Communion. The first thing to touch her chapped lips in
almost a month was the Body of Christ. It was as if God proclaimed: She abides in Me, and I in her. She feeds on Me, and so she will live because of Me.

That moment was so powerful that I could not just accept it as temporary comfort during my mother’s illness and move on with my life as before. It forced me to realize how much energy I had wasted being angry at God, and angry at my parents. And in letting go of my anger, I realized that God had been present not just in the hospital with my mom, but in the entire mess of the last few years. While I was lost among each of my individual sufferings, He was actually drawing them together into one path that led closer to Him. I could not see God’s presence at the time, because I was blinded by sadness and confusion.

Somewhere in the emotional discussions with my parents, somewhere in leaning so heavily on the rest of my family and my friends, somewhere in seeing my mom and my dad vulnerable, broken, and crying – God was there. How do I know this? Because love was there. Love. We all easily could have drifted apart, but we remained committed to each other, and to what could be salvaged of the family. Those gritty situations, however painful, were rooted and grounded in love.

God didn’t want me to suffer, but He did use my burdens as an opportunity for grace. The divorce was a cross that free will and human choices placed on my shoulders, so under its weight I could not look to God. But He found me, with my head bowed, vulnerable, and His grace drew me down a certain path. And then, when he lifted my burden in the moment he came to my mom in the Eucharist, I was
able to look up again. And I saw that He had led me to a new place. A place where I was a little closer to him, and a little closer to the person He created me to be.

holy family iconIn the world’s eyes, my family is broken. But the Lord can always see the possibility of bringing more love into our lives with each other and with him. So as my family continues to struggle, I pray that our reconfigured relationships are based on love and devotion and not hurt or resentment. I pray, again and again, that I may trust in the Lord with all my heart, and lean not on my own understanding; that I may acknowledge Him in all my ways, and He will direct my paths.

 

Setting the Table for All

GraceGrace Mariette Agolia

Undergraduate Fellow

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I love sharing meals with other people, especially around the dinner table with my family.  In this sense, family, while including the biological, extends beyond that to a spiritual communion of persons, who express vulnerability by welcoming each other to the table, preparing a place for each person, serving each person, and embracing each other as he or she is in God.  You behold the body before you, you receive it, and you give of yourself in return.  It is both a physical and spiritual act.  I learned this experience of family in a special way during my time this past summer at a L’Arche home.

L’Arche is an international organization founded by Jean Vanier through which people with and without intellectual disabilities share life in community, build mutually transforming relationships, celebrate the dignity of each human person, and make known each other’s gifts by working together to build a better world. [1]

At tvince4he beginning and end of each dinner meal at L’Arche, we pray together.  We thank God for the gifts of family, friends, and food before we eat, and afterwards, we light a candle and pass it around to each person at the table as they express gratitude for certain experiences of the day and name their prayer intentions.  We conclude by joining hands to say the “Our Father.”  In gathering together around the table, we share our joys and sorrows, and we acknowledge each other’s dignity as persons created in the image of God.  The meal is not only about the food shared but also about the humanity shared with each other in kinship, where those at the margins are brought to the center.

Especially in a world where many are afraid to confront Lazarus begging for scraps at the table of plenty, this understanding of family where all, especially those on the margins of society, are welcomed at the table is essential for us to encounter God in human relationships.  We are to come to the feast of heaven and earth exactly as we are in God, and we are to embrace the dignity of all persons at the table, regardless of condition or ability.  For people with disabilities, this can be difficult because much of the non-acceptance that they face in society happens because others are not willing to incur a cost to themselves in trying to go beyond their fear in an attempt to understand.  Much of the disabling part is actually a social construction – the terrible feeling of isolation that results when other people, who do not understand because they are afraid, treat people with disabilities in a different way that can be demeaning.

Persons with disabilities are human beings.  Their experience of disability is a very particular type of challenge that they face in their daily lives.  It informs their experience as human beings, but it no way defines who they are.  Like every other human being, they seek love, they seek acceptance, they seek friendship, they seek communion.  Like all people, they must be offered a place at the table, where the human heart is called to relationship, to “a communion of hearts, which is the to-and-fro of love.” [2]

According to theologian Henri Nouwen:

[H]aving a meal is more than eating and drinking [to stay alive]. It is celebrating the gifts of life we share. A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events. Around the table we become vulnerable, filling one another’s plates and cups and encouraging one another to eat and drink. Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst. Around the table we become family, friends, community, yes, a body. That is why it is so important to ‘set’ the table. Flowers, candles, colorful napkins all help us to say to one another, “This is a very special time for us, let’s enjoy it!”  [3]

At L’Arche, we take great care in preparing and setting the table for each meal, ensuring that we have the right lastsuppernumber of places for all the people coming to dinner and that we can accommodate specific dietary needs.  Likewise, at Mass, it is so important to set a place for each person at the table, to invite them, to welcome them because that is true meaning of community.  We are to enjoy the beautiful presence of each other, of God coming into our midst.

This is part of the reason why I enjoyed attending Mass with the L’Arche core members.  They sat right in front at church, participating as fully and joyfully as they could using their gifts, and the whole parish community was so accepting of them as persons, which is a recognition that goes beyond merely accommodating a physical disability.  The accommodation needs to become a spiritual one for both persons in the relationship in order to bring them together, not just as one simply helping the other but as both mutually benefiting and being transformed by the interaction.

As Hauerwas and Vanier wrote,

“The Word became flesh to bring people together, to break down the walls of fear and hatred that separate people.  That’s the vision of the incarnation – to bring people together.  In his prayer for unity Jesus prayed that we might all become one.  We have this incredible vision of peacemaking, two thousand years in the making.” [4]

We are called to break down barriers of misunderstanding that separate us by giving and receiving the kiss of peace each day, and especially so during a family meal by taking, blessing, breaking, and sharing the bread that sustains all.

Sometimes, we have experiences of disruptive meals because of hostility and unreconciled differences among persons.  Those meals often go unfinished, with one person leaving in anger, the food wasted, the other sinking at the table, either no longer hungry, or eating in a futile attempt to fill the emotional emptiness.  Or there is an awkward silence as we cover ourselves by focusing on our food, anxious to get the meal over with so that we can escape the embarrassing situation.  There is no giving or receiving; only fear, and the walls go up.  We are left alone in isolation, in a division that threatens community.  This happens all too often in family life.  Some of us grow up not being able to be vulnerable, and it affects our relationships with other people.

When we are unable to accept the limitations of others, it is often because we are unable to accept our own.  For many of us, it is difficult “to accept our limits and our handicaps as well as our gifts and capacities.  We feel that if others see us as we really are they might reject us.  So we cover our weaknesses.” [5] Each of us has a strong desire to be valued and regarded as a person of worth, and when we discover those things which inhibit us from aspiring to our full potential or those things that are looked down upon by others, we want to hide them so that we may be accepted.  It is hard to expose our true selves because we run the risk of being rejected and hurt.  To give of oneself freely and to be accepting of another comes at a cost, but the rewards reaped can be great when love is returned.

When we accept each other as we are with all our weaknesses and strengths, and continuously come together to partake of the same meal, we grow together on our journey to God. When one gives to another, he or she allows the gift to be received, creating areas of inner spiritual growth.

For Jean Vanier, accompaniment is very much a part of life at L’Arche, but it is ultimately at the heart of all human growth. [6] We are to assume dispositions of humility and mercy for each other, so that we may walk together on this journey, encouraging the other to grow in loving relationship.  This mutual trust and belonging in communion is the “to-and-fro” movement of love between two people where each one gives and each one receives.  Communion is not a stagnant reality; it is continuously growing and deepening but “can turn sour if one person tries to possess the other, thus preventing growth.” [7] Both are enabled in freedom because they are allowed to be themselves.  As we partake of the meal together, we accompany each other in our spiritual journeys to union with God, which involves forgiveness and growth in understanding of each other.

In acknowledging and accepting each other’s vulnerability, we participate in this “to-and-fro of love,” a communion of hearts, where vulnerability and tenderness abounds.  By sharing the same meal and being incorporated into Christ’s loving act of self-gift, we are called to do the same in our lives when we are sent forth into the world after Mass.  We become a living body, unified in love through vulnerability in relationships.

By emphasizing relationships as brothers and sisters in Christ, L’Arche identifies itself as not just a service provider but also as a Christian community.  It is not just assistants caring for persons with disabilities; it is persons with disabilities caring for assistants as well.  The relationship is mutually beneficial and transforming, where both are called to vulnerability and to an ever-deeper love.  This is the nature of self-giving love that is intrinsic to family life.  There must be a selfless desire to give, and a humility to receive, both of which require vulnerability.  The love of husband and wife, the love of mother and father for their children, the love of siblings, the love of children for their parents, especially as they grow older and in turn, now need their children’s care.  We are formed in this love at Mass, at the Eucharistic table, and leaving, our lives become “Eucharistized,” as we share meals at our own family tables in our homes, welcoming all and preparing a place for all, especially those on the margins.

Gratitude is a fruit of this vulnerability of persons gathered together around the table.  Just as one core member at L’Arche expressed that his vision of heaven would be like the “First Thanksgiving,” pointing to a depiction of the Last Supper on the wall above the dining room table, we are called to enact each meal as a sacrifice of thanksgiving, honoring God and those human beings around us with sacred dignity.  We are called to give of ourselves in relationships of humble service and gratitude, as an offering of self-gift modeled on that of Jesus’ own gift on the cross.  Our hospitality to each other is a genuine example of how we should emulate Christ’s vulnerability in our lives.  In coming to the table, we do run the risk of allowing ourselves to be changed.  But unless we are transformed in love, how will we ever be able to kiss the crosses of others?  Our hearts become both the table and the altar where we encounter others and experience the person of Christ, who implores us to do this in his memory.

______

Notes:

[1] I participated in the Summer Service Learning Program offered through the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns.  The theme of this year’s immersion experience was “Kinship at the Margins.”

[2] Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, p. 63

[3] Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved

[4] Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier, Living Gently in a Violent World:  The Prophetic Witness of Weakness

[5] Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, p. 100

[6] Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, p. 130

[7] Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, p. 28

Re-Ordering Our Church Politics

Molly DailyMolly Daily, ND ’14

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

Contact Author

When Pope Francis stood before a Joint Session of the United States Congress, I watched with anticipation, joy, and excitement. After all, it was a combination of many of my favorite things – Pope Francis, the Catholic Church in general, politics, and people actually watching a joint session of Congress. It was also the perfect platform for Pope Francis to proclaim (much more eloquently than I could) that which I tried to articulate as a political science student, a government worker, and a devout Catholic. He declared:

A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps.

Synod-on-the-Family-imageOur Holy Father’s advice is one that was quickly ignored by folks on either side of the aisle, who chose to stand and applaud at points of his speech that traditionally coincided with their Democratic or Republican beliefs, respectively. It is a statement that should be taken very seriously in the coming weeks of the Synod on the Family. As the Synod begins, the Catholic Church in America has once again forcefully divided itself into two camps–the conservative and the liberal. Americans on either side of the political aisle are taking to the opinion sections of their newspapers, while media professionals are encouraging this division by reporting upon it. In general, headlines with catchy titles with words like controversy, “sparks fly,” tension, and the like abound.

This commentary, controversy, and at times petty talk reflects a deeper schism in America that I see all the time – in college students, in politics, in parishes, and far too often in myself. Churches or parishes are defined as “liberal” or “conservative.” Those on either end of the political spectrum choose the pieces of faith that align with their political beliefs, and simply ignore, forget about, or explain away those that don’t.

When we divide our Catholicism into “Liberal” and “Conservative,” are we not diving headfirst into this same polarization, this simplistic naming of ourselves and our political beliefs as “good” and those of the other as “evil?” It strikes me as altogether heartbreaking that we simply skim over this piece of Pope Francis’ remarks and jump straight to a new controversy – after all, the Pope’s visit is over; he’s back in Europe now.

When we label our faith as ”Liberal” or “Conservative,” we reduce the sacrifice of Christ and the fullness of truth held in the Catholic faith. We make Gods of a political system created by human beings. We forget the supreme Truth revealed to us through the story of creation and the redemption of the world. We try to fit our Catholicism into our political beliefs, when we should look the other way around. Our politics do not define us; what is revealed in Christ does. To say otherwise is to build up our own importance and suggest that a human system knows better than the Lord, the giver of life, the fullness of reality.

There is only one solution to this ongoing temptation that is so prevalent in the United States. In the liturgy and the Eucharist, we are reminded of the right order of the world. We come to understand and present the memory of the world, the redemptive sacrifice of Christ, the salvation of the world, and the Love which created and continues to move us, as the single most important thing in our lives and our worlds. We need this constant reminder to reorder our priorities, to return to that which created and compels us, and to give credit where it truly belongs. When we participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice, we are able to accept that we are not the center of our own world, and that our political beliefs are developed through our faith, not the other way around.

Perhaps, we can do nothing more important than attend the Eucharist during the Synod, avoiding the politics of suspicion that marks so much present discourse.

Fifty Rolls on my Plate: Eucharistic Sexuality in “Sunday Candy”

MLewisMadeline Lewis ’17

Theology and English

Undergraduate Fellow, Center for Liturgy

 

For the Lord has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling, saying, “This is my resting place for ever and ever.” 

-Psalm 132

You better come on in this house, cause it’s gonna rain. Rain down, Zion, it’s gonna rain.

-“Sunday Candy”, Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment

I don’t listen to rap often, but when I do, I prefer for it to be imbued with tones of Eucharistic self-gift. This may seem like a tall order, but it’s exactly what the listener encounters in the song “Sunday Candy,” featuring a joy-filled gospel choir, the rhymes of Chance the Rapper, the vocals of Jamila Woods, and some tremendously triumphant trumpeting. When Woods begins her hook, the trumpets pause and a church organ reverberates under her words: “You gotta move it slowly/ Take and eat my body like it’s holy”. Chance joins Woods as she repeats this gentle hook a second time, and as their voices meld together in a duet, a theme begins to emerge: one of right-ordered sexuality, the kind that calls us home to what it means to be human. The very title of the song speaks of a call to express our human sexuality in a way that encompasses not only the sweetness and playfulness of candy but also the reverently respected sacredness of a Sunday.

Chance and Jamila are singing for joy: and it’s the sweetness of a relationship in which there is holiness of waiting (“I’ve been waiting for you”) and praying (I’ve been praying for you”), and honestly, it’s a whole lot of fun. In Chance’s words we might even uncover something of the beauty of a relationship in which two draw each other closer to God: “You’re my dreamcatcher, dream team, team captain/ Matter fact, I ain’t seen you in a minute let me take my butt to church”. The desire to see and spend time with his beloved spurs him to church- and rightly so, for as we might add, it is in loving one another well that we enter into the dwelling place of the Lord, who is Love Itself. This notion of the way we love and the way we dwell with God being intertwined comes up again when Chance describes the one he loves in the second verse: ” You sound like why the gospel choir got so tired/ Singin’ his praise on daily basis so I gotta try it”. In other words, the way that she loves sounds like the praise of a gospel choir, a choir that gives fully and to the end, each day. In Chance’s words, a very Christian truth shines through: in the way that we love, we give praise to the Lord, and we come to dwell with Him daily.

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Thus, in this song we catch a glimmer of what it means to be truly human: to give of ourselves lovingly and dwell joyfully in the place of the Lord. It means, as the song puts it, to “come on in this house,” into shelter from the rain and into the holy house of Zion. Our call to dwell in this holy place is a call to respond to God’s abundant gift of Himself in the Eucharist by becoming abundant gifts ourselves. Perhaps “Sunday Candy” can be for us a small example of the way that we sing to God with joy through the ways we express our sexuality, a most sweet and sacred thing. It can be reminder of the beauty of relationships in which dwelling with each other leads us to dwell with God. Where Chance speaks of dinner rolls on his plate at Christmas dinner, we can speak of the Eucharist, and of the shelter we find as we allow the Bread we take and eat to form the pattern in which we share ourselves in relationship. We can trust that in the patience and the prayerfulness of this sort of sharing, there is also such great sweetness.

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The Most Important Thing About Parenting

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Vision and Student Engagement

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The most important thing about parenting I learned from my dad. It wasn’t anything he said, it is what he did, day after day.

That I learned the most important thing about parenting from my dad is not surprising. After my mom left him when I was seven and my brother was three, my dad raised us on his own at a time when single parents were not as common, and a single dad was rare indeed. With a broken marriage and shattered finances, followed by job insecurity and one health problem after another, my dad gave himself over to both the obvious and the millions of imperceptible daily duties of bringing up two young boys. My greatest education in parenting comes from what my dad chose to build his parenting upon.

My father attended daily Mass every morning at 6:30am. In and of itself, this practice was neither a form of overt piety nor heroism; in fact, when I asked my dad recently why he went to Mass every day, he said, “I just enjoyed it. It was a good way to start my day.”

Mass always ended a couple minutes before 7am (so I’ve been told!) and he would race home afterwards to pack our lunches and get my brother and me ready for school. Otherwise, his days were no different than the great many parents who tend to their kids, work their jobs, cook meals, pay bills, attend school meetings, drive to sports practices, and maybe find a half-hour or so of down time at the end of the day. In all those ways, what he did then is much like what I do now. And yet I can’t help but think about the sheer volume of it all for one man, about the way he poured himself into it all, and about the simple routine that started all those days.

Once, when I was in the middle of one of my precocious, self-centered obnoxi-thons during my early teenage year, my dad’s best friend sort of reprimanded me:

“Someday you’ll realize all that your dad’s done for you.”

More than 20 years later, I still think about that prophecy. With my eldest son now a couple years older than I was when my dad became my sole day-to-day parent, I can’t imagine trying to give him and his siblings all they need without their mother (especially since she is the superior parent). Now that I am myself am in the midst of experiencing the joys and the struggles of parenting, I’m starting to realize what my dad did for me and for my brother.

The most important thing he did for us, though, was that he went to Mass every morning. It is not that all the things that happened the rest of the day were the effects of this one cause; rather, each of those days that I lived under his care were days spent with a man who practiced giving both his joys and his sorrows to the Lord, who stuck to “the familiar ritual of the Eucharistic Prayer in the midst of a life in turmoil,” as Tim O’Malley wrote a few short weeks ago on these very (digital) pages. As much as he had to improvise in those days and over those years, he made that one constant his foundation. And for two boys who lost the stability of a familiar home, he became our stability.

Though the translation of the Missal was different then, I like to think of my father at those early morning Masses when I recite these words before approaching the altar at Mass:

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof;

But only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

For him, that roof covered our home, and our home was a perpetual reminder of the fracture that had occurred in his life—of what once was but was no longer. Under that roof, we all erred, we all failed, and for all his remarkable virtues and heroic deeds, he also had his fair share of poor decisions. Like all families, ours was, in many ways, unworthy of blessing.

But. I love that word right in this prayer. But I turn to you, O Lord. But I trust in you, O Lord. But your word is not my word because your word heals even when my word wounds…. But my dad practiced opening himself to more than he was by himself, and at couple minutes before 7am, he would race home to make our lunches.

I’ve learned a lot about the Eucharist since I was a child. In fact, I “know” a lot more about the Eucharist than my dad ever did. I’ve studied the Eucharist, I’ve taught the Eucharist, I’ve written about the Eucharist. And yet, there is nothing I could ever think or say or write that would exceed the eloquence of what my dad did, day after day.

He went out before we woke to receive the Eucharist and he brought the Eucharist back to us within himself.

“Become what you receive.” My dad carried what he received into our home and shared Him in the uncountable small acts of love he performed on a daily basis. We fed on his love; he became our bread.

That is the most important thing about parenting.

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.

The Eucharist: Food for Us Wild Things

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Like many American children, I was well familiar with Maurice Sendak’s classic Where the Wild Things Are. The story of a land populated with strangely horrifying yet even more strangely appealing creatures and the darkly thrilling image of Max as their boy-king became firmly lodged in my imagination from an early age; however, there was one facet of the story that I could never quite wrap my head around, even as I grew up and began sharing the story with younger siblings and eventually nephews and nieces. After the “wild rumpus” (quite possibly one of the greatest phrases in children’s literature), something surprising happens:

And Max, the king of all the wild things, was lonely, and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all. . . . So he gave up being king of where the wild things are. But the wild things cried, “Oh please don’t go—we’ll eat you up—we love you so!”

Dear Wild Things: Saying you're going to eat me up because you love me is not making me want to hang around longer. Love, Max
Dear Wild Things: Saying you’re going to eat me up because you love me is not making me want to hang around longer. Love, Max

Initially, it was surprising to me that Max would give up being king of where the wild things are, but more than that, it was the response of the wild things that utterly bewildered me. Last time I checked, in the world of kid-dom, “We’ll eat you up” was a death threat! And yet it’s followed up with “We love you so”? How could eating Max possibly be an expression of the wild things’ love for him? In the child’s imagination (or at least in my own), the prospect of being eaten by a monster with terrible roars and terrible teeth and terrible eyes and terrible claws is something, well, utterly terrifying. Yet here, in Sendak’s world of wild things, eating is somehow an expression of their love.

Turning from the wild things of Sendak’s world to the adorably wild things of my own world, I began thinking about something my younger brother said once of his two small children (now 5 and 3), who are inseparable besties. Apparently, it’s not uncommon for these kiddos to give each other hugs that more accurately resemble full-body tackles in their joyous exuberance. As my bemused brother described these endearing expressions of sibling love, “It’s almost like they’re trying to eat each other.”   “We’ll eat you up—we love you so!”

There is often a strong connection between an intense love for something and the desire to consume it—to break down any barriers of separation so that there is nothing between us and the object of our affections, and this desire is often understood from an alimentary point of view, a desire which has deep resonances with the Eucharist. Love—in its myriad forms—is, ultimately, a desire for knowledge of and union with the beloved, as Philippe Rouillard points out in his essay “From Human Meal to Christian Eucharist”: “The words ‘hunger’ and ‘thirst’ are often employed in a figurative sense to express the desires of all human beings” (see Living Bread, Saving Cup, ed. Seasoltz, 127). Indeed, there is often an intense longing to have the object of our affections become a part of us, and here we can establish a connection to eating and drinking. When we eat and drink, we interact with various substances and take them into our bodies, and in so doing, we reach a new level of experiential knowledge of those substances, even as we transform them into ourselves. Angel F. Méndez-Montoya points out this relationship in his book The Theology of Food: Eating and the Eucharist:

In tasting through eating and drinking, the world enters us, but we also enter the world. We are made by that which we eat and drink, but we also “make” the world. We are what we eat, but we also eat what we are. To know is, then, to savor, and thus enter into an intimate relationship with another that shapes us while it is being shaped by us. . . . Knowledge is active collaboration and participation. (64)

This desire for such deep, participatory knowledge is why we sometimes look at a baby and think, “She’s so cute! I just want to eat those chubby cheeks!” It’s why effusive young sibling affection often looks more like toddlers trying to hurt each other. Or why the wild things want to show their love for Max by eating him up. And yet it is the realization that knowledge is not only participatory but also collaborative that prevents authentic love from becoming a relationship in which one being utterly subsumes the other, thereby destroying the other in the process (as would happen if the wild things had actually eaten Max out of love, and as ultimately happens with the food that we eat).

The wild things and Max, my niece and nephew—these memories and images have resurfaced in my mind as I’ve listened to sixth chapter of John’s Gospel proclaimed during the Sunday Mass these past few weeks. Christ_feedingIn this passage known as the Bread of Life discourse, we learn anew that in his love for us, Jesus comes to us—his beautiful creatures who have become wild things, rebellious in our sinfulness yet hungering for we know not what—and in him, we recognize our King, the One whom we love. Moreover, Jesus doesn’t come to us only to leave us again; he comes to us as the One who ‘loves us best of all,’ the One who desires to be with us forever, who demonstrates his love by laying down his life on the Cross and offering us the gift of himself in the Eucharist: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (Jn 6:51, 54–55). Or, to put it in Sendak-ian terms, “Please eat me up, I love you so!”

Unlike the food we wild things consume and transform into ourselves, the Eucharist is the food by which we are transformed. As we savor Christ in the Eucharist, we become Christ (as St. Augustine reminds us in Sermon 272), and through Christ, we participate in the life of God. It is in the Eucharist that loving and eating are one and the same thing: in his love for us, Jesus Christ gives himself to be eaten under the forms of bread and wine, and in our love for Jesus, we eat of his flesh and drink of his blood not only so that we might come to know him more fully, even as we are fully known (cf. 1 Cor 13:12), but also so that we might become the One whom we receive.

"Christ Feeding the People" by Fyffe Christie (Iona) Photo: Eleanor Christie (2012); CC BY-SA 3.0
“Christ Feeding the People” by Fyffe Christie (Iona)
Photo: Eleanor Christie (2012); CC BY-SA 3.0

This relationship of transforming love is not one in which we are subsumed into Christ; rather, it brings us more fully unto ourselves, as Benedict XVI affirms: “This union is no mere fusion, a sinking in the nameless ocean of the Divine; it is a unity which creates love, a unity in which both God and man remain themselves and yet become fully one” (Deus Caritas Est, §10).

For the next two Sundays, we will continue to receive nourishment from the Bread of Life discourse, where Jesus insists, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me” (Jn 6:56–57), and yet we are also invited to receive nourishment by not merely by listening to the words of the Bread of Life, but by eating the Bread of Life. It is out of sheer love for us that Jesus gives himself as food and drink for our souls, inviting us to eat and drink of his flesh and blood so that we might share in the divine life. Let us love wildly, responding to the one who says, “Take and eat” by exclaiming, “We’ll eat you up—we love you so!”

 

La Sagrada Familia Basilica: A Pilgrimage

MichaelInfantineMichael Infantine

University of Notre Dame, 2016

Program of Liberal Studies and Theology

Studying abroad this past semester has taken me many places I’ll not soon forget, but perhaps none more striking or richly beautiful than La Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona, Spain. Begun in 1882 in the eccentric modern style of Antoni Gaudi, La Sagrada Familia is an unparalleled place of worship. When my friends and I visited Barcelona for a weekend trip, our first order of business was visiting the famous Park Güell, also designed by Gaudi, from which a sweeping panorama of the city could be enjoyed. Instantly setting itself apart from its surroundings, La Sagrada Familia stood out in the cityscape like a beautiful sore thumb, piercing the fog in the distance. When we later arrived at the Basilica, the line to get inside was nearly an hour long, but the time passed quickly, spent marveling at the amazingly intricate detailing – gargoyles, crosses, saints – covering the façade of the church.

Sagrada Familia 2When we stepped inside, it took me a moment to find my jaw. The enormity of the basilica draws your eyes up and up, irresistibly, to a perfectly white light that pours in through the ceiling. Among giant, awe-inspiring pillars reminiscent of tree trunks, brilliant stained glass windows invite the most vibrant colors to dwell with the visitors. In short, it was a picture of heaven, every piece within the Basilica working uniquely, and yet all coming together in perfect harmony to create a singular space of praise. However, among all this transcendent beauty, there was another aspect of this church that caught my attention. Although construction of La Sagrada Familia began over a century ago, it is still being built today and isn’t expected to be completed until 2026. As I wandered through this stunning liturgical space, the hum of construction, inside and out, was inescapable. Giant cranes surrounded the outside of the Basilica, and mesh netting covered much of the inside.

I couldn’t believe that this church begun over one hundred years ago was still being, not refurbished, but finished. Walking around La Sagrada Familia, hearing the clanking of metal and the rhythmic drilling of jackhammers was just as much a part of the experience of taking in the beauty of the basilica as gazing at the stained glass windows and the enormous altar. I couldn’t help but think that all of us inside that basilica could learn something from this holy space about how we ourselves might grow in holiness. I think we share the vocation this church lives out. Like La Sagrada Familia, we are called to become more perfect versions of ourselves and orient ourselves ever more perfectly toward eucharistic praise. Christ tells us, Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

The beauty of La Sagrada Familia is that it is truly a living place. Each day, as it comes closer and closer to becoming what it was created to be, a perfect space of praise and eucharistic offering, this church answers a more and more emphatic ‘yes’ to this call of Christ’s.

And so with us.

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We share this call to become, over time, more perfect members of the body of Christ. The tune up of sorts that we require – the ascetic preparation that we undertake to cleanse and prepare our souls to conform our wills ever more perfectly to the Divine Will – is not unlike the continual construction and choirs of power tools sounding through La Sagrada Familia. I was struck, visiting this basilica, by the fact that it was becoming a better church as it was being a church. We too are called, as we already are members of the community of the faithful, to become ever better, more holy people, and to answer a fuller, richer ‘yes’ to God’s call for our lives.

La Sagrada Familia is a fantastic sign of how we ourselves are rejuvenated and given new life in conforming ourselves to our call, just as the basilica has. As Christ tells us, I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

Just as the Sagrada Familia receives its fullness of life as it is painted and constructed, becoming a better church more able to give back in praise what it has received in gift, we too have life to the full inasmuch as we respond faithfully and lovingly to our vocational calls.

LaSagradaFamiliaBThis juxtaposition between the newness and oldness of La Sagrada Familia – the fact that this space was still being made new and brought to completion even after it had stood for over one hundred years – led me to notice another striking juxtaposition in the church, that between its physicality and spirituality. The ever-changing appearance of the church as it underwent construction drew a sharp contrast with the never-changing, abiding love of the spirit who dwells in such a special way in that space. This too lent a rich insight into our own experience as members of the faithful. Each time we enter the liturgy, we say more or less the same prayers. This is the eternal. But we are also refreshed and made new in our faith through our spiritual practices as we make more perfect sacrifices of praise.

On Sunday, the last day of my trip to Barcelona, my friends and I returned to La Sagrada Familia for Mass, and as we celebrated the Eucharist, a statue was being ever so carefully painted just behind us. The painting of the statue was a beautiful sign. Just as the statue of the saint was becoming more beautiful in its painting, we too in the midst of the same eucharistic offering, were inching closer to sainthood.

Witnessing this particular piece of the church’s construction couldn’t have been more perfect, because it happened during mass – a reminder that ultimately, what makes La Sagrada Familia such a wondrous place is not how pretty it is, but rather its purpose. The holy celebration of the Eucharist. So too does our fullness of life, our perfection on the road to holiness, come from the gift God’s grace and the sacrifice of His Son poured out for us.