Tag Archives: evangelization

Liturgy and the New Evangelization: Symposium 2016

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Register for Liturgy and the New Evangelization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Liturgical Formation: Three Thoughts from Societas Liturgica

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Last week, I participated in a week long ecumenical gathering of international liturgical scholars. The theme of this year’s Societas Liturgica biennial meeting was liturgical formation. In the midst of plenary lectures and research papers, three thoughts surfaced for me about the nature of liturgical formation in the late modern or postmodern world.

SL2015

The Separation of Liturgical Studies From The Study of the Scriptures, Theology, and Spirituality

It was a common motif among the keynote addresses, along with many of the short research papers, to bemoan the separation of liturgical scholarship from its roots in Scripture, theology, and spirituality. Liturgical studies, insofar as it has become a separate discipline, has at times become myopic in its treatment of formation. That is, as liturgical studies elevates participation in the liturgical rites of the Church to the privileged location of formation, the rest of Christian life is marginalized. As Patrick Pretot wrote in his major essay:

…the dream of a type of liturgical formation that would be able to find its principal support within the celebration itself is today confronted with many difficulties…liturgical formation needs to find new routes for our post- or ultra-modern era….these new ways must seek to draw together Scripture, theology and spirituality in such a way that formation must not be subordinated to the sole end of ritual performance…

The goal of the liturgical life is glorification of God and the sanctification of humankind. There is a danger that following the Second Vatican Council, the telos of liturgical prayer was nothing short of liturgical prayer itself. The next frontier of liturgical studies within the academic discipline of theology will be discerning an approach to liturgical formation that opens up the imagination to a “liturgical approach to life” that was itself pivotal to Romano Guardini, to name but one example. Liturgical studies, if it remains an insular discipline concerned about performance of rites alone, will lose its place in theology as that discipline, which unites academic rigor with pastoral practice.

Within Catholicism, perhaps, I would gather that we are entering the era of “lay liturgical scholarship,” which will facilitate this movement. In previous generations, it was the priest who studied liturgy. Yet, among the younger Roman Catholics present in Quebec, I encountered lay student after lay student after lay student, intrigued by connecting liturgical prayer with a form of life. The project of renewing liturgical studies will be a lay project in particular.

Not Liberal, Not Conservative But Identity Forming

CassocksIn her opening address to the conference, President Lizette Larson-Miller described a change in liturgical practice, especially among the young. She noted a group of Anglican seminarians, who would celebrate Vespers every Friday, concluding with the Latin Marian antiphon of the day. They did all this dressed in cassocks. Larson-Miller described this approach to liturgical prayer (not as conservative) but as related to the manner in which identity is formed in late modern life. To put on a cassock, to pray in this way, is to “write” one’s identity in Christ upon the body. Implicit in Larson-Miller’s analysis is the claim that one should not treat such young adults under the rubrics of conservative or liberal. Rather, they are seeking to perform Christian identity in a bodily way, one that perhaps was lost to a previous generation.

In conversations with many others throughout the conference, I came to see that this concern with “forming one’s identity” through “traditional” practice is in fact the way forward for many of our Christian traditions. I spoke to Anglicans, who noted the growth of their assemblies when they let the angels fly (as Walter Knowles described it). I spoke to Catholics and Anglicans also, who acknowledge the benefit of praying ad orientem not as a way of returning to some golden age but as the proper eschatological and liturgical posture before God. The desire to try on these “traditional” postures is not being performed as some conservative reaction to secularity. Rather, it is a way of marking oneself as Catholic, as Christian, as a liturgical pray-er.  I listened to an essay describing the music of Hillsong as moving toward a “traditional” articulation of what constitutes Christian salvation in their taking up the music of the Creed (for example).

In an era in which Christianity is increasingly marginalized (especially among those in Europe, Australia, and the United States), the taking up of traditional practice is a way of shaping an identity apart from alternative constructions of identity available to the postmodern person. It should be cultivated, not bemoaned.

The Spectre of the Secular: A Liturgical Evangelization

Although it was not always mentioned, the spectre of the secular was omni-present at our gathering in Quebec. At the literal level, we walked around a city in which church after church, convent after convent, has been converted into condo, library, or is in the midst of being sold. Further, in paper after paper, one encountered exasperation that the liturgy was not quite as formative of identity as we would hope. That the numbers of those attending our weekly liturgical rites were not as high as we would hope. That baptism or confirmation or Eucharist functioned as a kind of rite of passage, not transforming the life of the believer.

Here, what is required is not further academic research per se but a renewed approach to evangelization as a whole. What we study and preach is not a liturgical rite, a sacrament per se but Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead. Liturgical studies would benefit from greater contact with a Christo-centric missiology. As Josef Jungmann wrote in his Pastoral Liturgy:

…through worship the Christian shape of our picture of the universe can and should be made effective–our Christian consciousness. We might say too: awareness of Christ must be formed through worship. We must not underestimate the danger in which we stand in the free West. People do not want to be Godless, they even want to be Christians; but Christ–the personal Christ, the God-man scarcely counts. That God has come down to us in Him, has spoken to us through Him, that His coming was the turning point in the world’s history and that since then He has continued to be a decisive factor in the course of the world and its order, is more or less overlooked. We have only to think of how Christmas is celebrated publicly; to look at the average Christmas card (Easter cards are no better) to detect how unreal Christ has become, how little He is taken in earnest…That He is the keystone and remains in the structure of our very existence, that He alone is the bridge linking us with God, is no longer a living thought. Only this makes sense of faith, sacraments, grace, and the Church (338).

Liturgical prayer is not simply an object of study, an interesting footnote to historical theology. But is itself an encounter with the living Christ mediated through rites, making sense of history. The spectre of secularization is such that we forget this, seeing in the liturgy only book, only ritual action. Forgetting that what we do is itself an encounter with reality.

Leaving this conference, what I found was not a need for additional study of rites. But a renewed commitment to liturgical evangelization. Perhaps, the way that we will move forward ecumenically is through retrieving this approach to liturgical evangelization within each of our traditions. In this context, dialogue will take on a shared perspective that we seek to encounter the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, who has transformed the very meaning of history.

 

 

Evangelization to the Children of God


Matt Miller
Director, Office of Worship,
Diocese of Evansville, Indiana

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Editorial Note: The following reflection was delivered as part of Morning Prayer during the Center for Liturgy’s recent Symposium, Liturgy and Vocation. We are grateful for the author’s permission to post it here.

You likewise know how we exhorted every one of you,
as a father does his children—
how we encouraged and pleaded with you
to make your lives worthy
of the God who calls you to his kingship and glory.
That is why we thank God constantly
that in receiving his message from us, you took it,
not as the word of men, but as it truly is,
the word of God at work within you who believe.
1 Thessalonians 2:11-13

To exhort, to encourage, to plead…

Saint Paul presents us with a very relatable, very human image in this passage—the comparison of his work with the people of Thessalonica to that of a father and his children. This “child-like” idea is one that we have heard other places in Scripture (I think Jesus may have mentioned something about it—“Let the children come to me. . .”), and perhaps the child is where our attention is first drawn in delving deeper into the reading. jesus-childrenIt is a scene all of us have witnessed and with which we can sympathize—the enthusiastic and/or petulant child who is asking questions, trying new things and testing boundaries, in need of some exhortation, encouragement, and even some pleading from a nearby father (or mother or grandparent or caregiver). In all honesty, we have all been that child at one point or another in our lives, and we probably still can be that child given the right circumstances. But hopefully, as we have grown in wisdom and stature, we have learned to put aside childish things while still retaining the appropriate child-like faith.

Let us turn now to the other character Paul gives us—the father. Like above, we have all had those moments in our lives to be as a parent or caregiver to someone: to exhort, to encourage, and to plead. I propose that we focus on the father and what we can learn from his actions. With Paul’s “father-figure,” there are three components on which I would like to reflect.

First, “we exhorted . . . we encouraged and pleaded. . . ” The father here is doing more than just asking nicely or offering some suggestions—“If you would not mind to do these things I’ve been talking about at some point, I’d really appreciate it. Or not. It’s up to you.” It is much more than that. There is urgency and passion to the actions of the father, as it should be between a parent and a child. Is not this urgency and especially passion what Pope Francis has been emphasizing?In his apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, the Holy Father remarks:

Being Church means being God’s people, in accordance with the great plan of his fatherly love. This means that we are to be God’s leaven in the midst of humanity. It means proclaiming and bringing God’s salvation into our world, which often goes astray and needs to be encouraged, given hope and strengthened on the way. (Evangelii Guadium, §114)

Is that not what Paul is saying to the Thessalonians? In our own world, do we share the Gospel with urgency and passion? Do we exhort, encourage, and even plead when need be?2013111110joy_of_the_gospel_300Second, “we exhorted every one of you . . .” The father, the parent, does not get to pick and choose among the children whom to exhort, encourage, and plead—although some children may need more than others. Pope Francis quotes his predecessor Paul VI when he reminds us that “No one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord” (Gaudete in Domino, §22). Are there people among us with whom we choose not to exhort, encourage or plead? Why do we exclude them? Why would we want to exclude them?

Which leads us to the last point: “in receiving the message from us you took it, not as the word of men, but as it truly is. . . .” Just as the parent does not get to pick and choose among the children, the parent also does not pick and choose the message,to make it up along the way (although it may feel that way to parents and children out there at times), or do it for their own benefit or merit (although you cannot beat a quality “World’s Best Dad” coffee mug).206ab038bb2f72ab607e35fdc4e5525d The exhortations, encouragements, and pleading have their source and roots in something bigger than the parent—they are hopefully rooted in love, in wanting the good for the other. Pope Francis reminds us that “If we wish to lead a dignified and fulfilling life, we have to reach out to others and seek their good . . . and ‘life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up in order to give life to others’.” (EG, §§9, 10). Christ came and offered up his life in order to give life to us, and his Gospel continues to exhort, to encourage, and plead with us today to do the same. That is where our dignity lies; that is where true fulfillment awaits us. And if we truly want this life for ourselves, are not we missing the point if we do not wish it for others as well?

As we spend the next few days in study, prayer and fellowship, let us take Saint Paul’s example to heart. May we never cease our exhortations, our encouragement and our pleading. May we open ourselves to be evangelizers to all without discrimination. And may we stay rooted in the Gospel of Christ, who is the source of all vocations.

Luigi Santucci’s Tales of Grace

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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This morning, while walking to work, I had a chance to read Luigi Santucci’s Tales of Graces: Reflections on the Joyful Mysteries. A series of short meditative stories that revolve around the joyful mysteries of the rosary, this book is a feast for the religious imagination. Published in Italian in 1946, this translation by Demetrio S. Yocum is a gift to the English reader. Not only is the prose beautiful but it is illuminated by a series of icons by George Kordis, an occasional visiting professor of the University of Notre Dame.

santucci

The gift of the text (from the perspective) of a liturgical theologian is that it stretches the very bounds of time itself, demonstrating that the mysteries of Christ’s life are not mere historical events, sealed now in the Biblical text. The joyful realities played out in the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Presentation of the Lord, and the Finding in the Temple are contemporary realities unfolding anew in the history of the world and the Church. And these events have transformed entirely what it means to be human, including the marking of time itself:

At night alone in your holy dwelling, Lord, I had a consoling thought: more and more humans forget you (or live as if they have forgotten you), but keep counting the years since your first coming. For this humanity that ignores or denies you, each reference to the year is an act of worship, a prostration in front of you: two thousand years ago our own destiny was created, Christ was incarnated and became man. Perhaps no other profession of faith is left for us than that: the more automatic and smoothed out by convention and habit, the more conspicuous and enduring. From the hasty bookkeeper’s key strokes on ledgers, to the certificates and licenses filed by office clerks, as well as headers and footers of dramatic love letters, this drop of your precious blood stands our unwaveringly and admonishingly like a tacitly eloquent blind prophet in his tunic, among a crowd of sinners and merchants” (34).

Indeed, what pulsates on every page of this text is a deep and abiding Christian humanism. It is not a humanism separate from Christianity, a kind of “liberal Christianity” that seeks to ignore those embarrassing Catholic particularities including the intercession of the Blessed Mother, the legends of the lives of the saints, and the stunning brilliance of the Church’s liturgy itself. Rather, it is a humanism that is grounded in the joy of the Gospel itself. After reading Santucci’s imaginative contemplation of the Visitation itself, it will be hard to pass over the wonder of these blessed pregnancies again:

Like two caravels on a placid sea, the pregnancies of the Virgin Mary and Elizabeth proceeded quickly and smoothly. By the end of September, both their bellies were tight as a drumhead and arched, precisely like two sails.

The silence surrounding them was increasingly intense and rustling, almost as if the world, in a secretive and respectful cooperation, pretended to be asleep in order to uncover the mystery. Someone, I am sure, was constantly lending the ear to hear the hidden blending of fluids and liquids that generate life: the life of a man and the life of God. But the secret could be unveiled only by looking at the countenance of two mothers’ faces: the maiden-mother with her warm brown braid; and the elderly woman, whose pregnancy had restored in her an almost childlike smoothness of skin (44).

KordisVisitationNature is taken up and transformed in this moment; and as Santucci will show throughout the remainder of this chapter, all pregnancy, all life is transfigured by these two births.

It struck me upon reading this text that this kind of literary, humanistic, and well….lovely account of the Gospel is precisely what is needed in the context of the New Evangelization. What Santucci produced years ago is a vision of what a Christian culture of joy looks like. It is not one without sorrow, without any reference to the cross. It does not pass over any aspect of what it means to be human. Instead, these stories embody a hopeful, grace-filled existence, which could not help but attract one to the Gospel.

Perhaps, this is most true in the final chapter, which involves a dialogue at a college reunion between presumably the author of the book and a group of priests. The author argues against the priests that the heart of Christianity is not self-denial but a radical affirmation of the world. As the author argues against the priests,

“Epicurus and all the other pagan hedonists, those living two thousand years ago and the ones of today, bustle around, trying to distill joy from pleasant things, whereas Christ taught us to find it in everything, even in the most problematic and testing circumstances.”

“Like what?”

“Death, for example.”

At the conclusion of the chapter, one of the priests asks the author what he should do if he is not to focus upon the pain of self-denial:

“May we ask you for some advice?” he said, winking at his brothers after an enigmatic silence. “If this is how things are, tell me, what is there left for us priests to do? Are you suggesting that we should try to serve the Gospel of Christ with a renewed spirit?…”

“Grace has won the battle with the Law,” I replied. “There is no more need of officers of the Law, but of promoters of Grace. ‘Grace’ means to desire the things that the Law made us afraid of. Grace is about finding more pleasure in avoiding sin than committing it. More pleasure, do you understand? Preaching about pain to mankind is a waste of time because pain is a discredited myth. No threat will ever stop a sinner because strong than sin, stronger than hunger and sex, stronger than man and angels there is only joy”

“What should you do,” I added. “Dazzle us: arrange processions more beautiful than glittering dances on glimmering dance floors; forge bells more melodious than the music of Strauss, use incense more fragrant than the finest perfumes….”

The era of grace, the epoch presented by Christ is not meant to be a time of misery. The Church, if she is attract members to her fold, cannot employ misery or guilt alone. Rather, it is be-dazzlement that the Church offers. An aesthetic evangelization in which new possibilities are opened to the one who gives him or herself over to the joy of the Gospel.

This book, then, is not simply then pleasant reading for a summer’s walk (and it is that indeed). Rather, it presents a literary, meditative, and imaginative vision of a Church that does not spurn the cultural or the human. It is, itself, a program for evangelization.

Keeping Patrick in St. Patrick’s Day

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle, M.M., M.S.M.

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Unless you spend your time hanging out under the proverbial rock, you’re probably aware that today is the feast day of a certain saint famous for his way with reptiles and for creating theological analogies using local foliage (albeit theologically problematic analogies, as we learn here). Yes, laddies and lassies, it’s St. Patrick’s Day. The day when pretty much everyone claims to have distant relatives from the Emerald Isle whether it’s true or complete blarney, because, as the saying goes, Everyone’s Irish on March 17th.

St. Patrick’s Day, like St. Valentine’s Day, has become more of a cultural phenomenon than a religious celebration here in the United States, so much so for the latter that the “St.” in “St. Valentine’s Day” (that is, the historical figure of St. Valentine) has been all but dropped from the consciousness of popular culture, leaving an almost entirely secularized celebration almost exclusively of romantic love, where chocolates, flowers, and bling express the extent of a person’s affections. With St. Patrick’s Day, we’ve at least retained the awareness that St. Patrick was, in fact, a real person, and that he was, in fact, a saint whose devotion to spreading the Gospel impacted an entire nation, but nowadays—or at least on most college campuses—it seems that the celebration of his feast is simply an excuse to indulge in a celebration of all things stereotypically Irish. . . or perhaps more accurately, just the one thing that many people associate with Ireland. In other words, St. Patrick’s Day has become an excuse to drink. Heavily. And not just on the actual day, either—parades and parties take place on the weekend before St. Patrick’s feast day, providing revelers who believe that “Everyone is Irish March 17th” with plenty of opportunities to drink too much, get in a fight or two, and most certainly wake up the next morning with the world’s worst hangover. It seems strange to me that a feast in honor of someone known for sanctity and courage and virtue has given rise to celebrations that generally cultivate none of these things. Somehow, I think, we’ve missed St. Patrick’s boat.

Having spent two of the happiest years of my life living in Ireland, I learned from the locals that the current shape of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Ireland are largely due to the way it’s been perceived and celebrated here in the United States. It’s only in relatively recent years that St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Ireland have begun to resemble the drunk-fests they’ve become in the States, in part because so many Americans have begun traveling to Ireland to celebrate the holiday there—the streets of Dublin were thronged with my fellow Americans on the St. Patrick’s Day I spent there. Prior to this recent trend, though, St. Patrick’s Day was (and still is) a national holiday and holy day of obligation in Ireland, one that, until recently, was celebrated simply: one would attend Mass at the local parish and take the day off from work or school, and perhaps celebrate with a “session,” an evening of music, poetry recitations, and story-telling.

Indeed, far more enjoyable to me than the parade and the pubs was the incredibly beautiful celebration of the Mass for St. Patrick’s Day that I attended at St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Dublin in 2011. The incredibly rich cultural heritage of this small country was represented both linguistically—readings and prayers were proclaimed in both English and Irish, and musically—traditional Irish singing and instrumental music resounded through the church as Irish dancers processed in front of the celebrants.

A Mass rock outside the village of Kildorrery, County Cork, where the Irish would secretly celebrate the Mass during penal times, using the rock as an altar. Many such Mass rocks exist throughout Ireland.

This is Ireland: a country whose resilient people truly are the salt of the earth, whose inimitable language and music and prayer intertwine with all of the intricacies of a Celtic knot. A country where the faith persisted in spite of centuries of oppression. A country where that faith persists still, in spite of a threat more insidious than oppression.

The seeds scattered by St. Patrick blossomed in the rich soil of the land of a thousand shades of green, so much so that Ireland became known as the “Land of Saints and Scholars.” Now, though, with the secularization of recent decades, coupled with the rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger, it seems that the Catholic identity of Ireland is more akin to a stereotype or cliché than a reflection of reality. Mass attendance has diminished greatly, and the various sacramental moments of a Christian life are often seen as mere rites of passage. Perhaps the most devastating development of recent years has been the revelation of abuse inflicted on the innocent by members of the clergy in Ireland. Just as the sanctity of one man brought a nation to the faith, so too have the sins of a few rocked that nation’s faith to its core. Thankfully, the light of faith has by no means been extinguished in Ireland; there are still many who live the Gospel each and every day of their lives. However, the reality is that the Catholic Church in Ireland is suffering, as she is suffering in many places throughout the world.

Which is why I think it’s more important than ever for people to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, in Ireland, in the United States, throughout the universal Church—not by using his feast as an excuse to indulge in drunkenness and debauchery, but by giving thanks for his witness, imitating his courageous example, and asking his continued intercession for those who live in the land he helped to evangelize.

The Book of Kells' famous Chi Rho, symbol of Christ
The Book of Kells’ famous Chi Rho, symbol of Christ

Like each and every one of the saints’ feast days, St. Patrick’s Day presents us with a vivid example of a particular life, lived at a particular place and time, in which the Word of God—Jesus Christ—took root, became flesh. By allowing that Word to take root in his heart, and by giving his life over to sharing that Word with others, St. Patrick changed the course of history for the nation of Ireland, and the Irish missionaries inspired by his example in turn helped to bring the Catholic faith to the United States of America. Anyone engaged in the work of the New Evangelization ought to see in St. Patrick not a cultural cliché, but a companion on the journey of discipleship and an ally in the effort to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). Ultimately, the story of St. Patrick and the impact he had in Ireland is an incredible example of the way in which Jesus Christ, who is “the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow” (Heb 13:8), continues to take flesh in the hearts of those who are open to encountering him, and he does this within the particularities of their own lives and cultures. By allowing Christ to take flesh in his heart, St. Patrick made his own the words of St. Paul—“I now live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20), yet he did so in a uniquely Celtic voice, as we see in the lyricism of the prayer for which he is most famous. Today, or this weekend, or whenever we celebrate all things Irish by raising our voices in prayer and song, kicking up our heels in a jig or a reel, attending parades, eating corned beef and cabbage, donning our favorite green woolen sweater, and yes, even perhaps raising our pints of Guinness (it is a celebration, after all, and everything in moderation), may we honor St. Patrick by looking to this great patron saint of Ireland more than anything else as an example of a life lived in Christ for others, and may we echo the final lines of his prayer with courage and fidelity, wherever our lives may take us:

Christ with me.
Christ before me.
Christ behind me.
Christ within me.
Christ beneath me.
Christ above me.
Christ at my right.
Christ at my left.
Christ in my lying down.
Christ in my sitting.
Christ in my arising.
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me.
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me.
Christ in every eye that sees me.
Christ in every ear that hears me.

St. Francis Xavier, Studying, and Evangelization

Sam BellafioreSamuel Bellafiore
Undergraduate Fellow
B.A. 2015 Music, Philosophy

In case you’ve already breezed through Tim’s list of Three (but really six) Things We’re Reading from yesterday, here’s another reading for your spiritual imagination, formation, and edification.

Today is the feast of St. Francis Xavier (1506–1552), an early Jesuit
and missionary in Asia. As the semester draws to a close and academic tunnel vision sets in, the Office of Readings confronts students with his startling words. The following passage is taken from the letters of St. Francis Xavier to his friend, St. Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Jesuits):

Bartolome_Esteban_Murillo_1670_XX_St._Francis_Xavier_(St._Francis_Xavier)Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: “What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!”

I wish they would work as hard at this as they do at their books, and so settle their account with God for their learning and the talents entrusted to them.

This thought would certainly stir most of them to meditate on spiritual realities, to listen actively to what God is saying to them. They would forget their own desires, their human affairs, and give themselves over entirely to God’s will and his choice. They would cry out with all their heart: Lord, I am here! What do you want me to do? Send me anywhere you like—even to India.

St. Francis Xavier, pray for us.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini: An American Tale of Evangelization

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle, M.M., M.S.M.

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

On this day in 1938, Frances Xavier Cabrini was canonized by Pope Pius XI, the first naturalized citizen of the United States to be officially named a saint. Born in Italy to a family of farmers, Frances was the tenth of eleven children, but only three of her siblings lived to adulthood; the others died of sickness as children and adolescents, and Frances herself suffered from weak health her entire life. Despite this sorrow, or perhaps rather precisely because of this, Frances and her family sought refuge in God. Frances’ parents took great pains to educate their children in the faith, reading stories of the great missionary saints at bedtime. These stories captured Frances’ imagination, and she so earnestly desired to become a missionary to the East that, when she grew up, she petitioned to join several religious orders; however, she was refused because of her poor health. Instead, inspired by the mother superior of one such order, Frances decided to establish a new religious community. cabriniOn November 14, 1880, she and five other women formed the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the diocese of Lombardy, Italy, and she took the name Frances Xavier, after the sixteenth-century Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier, who had traveled to China in order to spread the Gospel. Mother Cabrini worked tirelessly as leader of her newly founded order. Within eight years she had received permission to establish two mission houses in Rome, and while there, she learned of the great need for missionaries to minister to Italian immigrants in the United States. And so Frances and her companions journeyed, “Not to the East, but to the West,” arriving in New York City on March 31, 1889. By 1890, Frances and her fellow sisters had established an orphanage in New York City, followed soon after by a school that offered a free education to the poor immigrants. Within the next two years, she traveled to New Orleans, where she established a school and an orphanage. Upon returning to New York, she established a hospital to provide care for the poor, and soon afterward, traveled to Chicago and Seattle to do the same in those cities. Despite her continuously poor health, Frances persevered in her work, expanding the reach of her order even beyond North America, establishing missions in Nicaragua and Argentina, as well as Paris and Madrid. By the time of her death in 1917, Mother Cabrini had established 67 different institutions on three different continents. In the summer of 2004, I had the opportunity to visit the Mother Cabrini Shrine in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. One of the exhibits contained various articles of clothing that she had worn throughout her life: her habit, her veil, even her shoes. Cabrini2I remember being surprised at how small her shoes were—they looked like they belonged to a child. I imagined this tiny woman as an absolute tour de force in her life as a missionary, traveling into unknown places with an unflappable tenacity and a contagious energy, reaching out to the poorest of the poor in the slums and factories of nineteenth-century New York City, helping people to discover the beauty of the Gospel even as they faced the trials of the Cross as strangers in a strange land. In her ministry to those on the margins, especially to immigrants, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini embodies the ideals of evangelization put forth by Pope Francis, whose native Argentina welcomed her centuries ago as she shared the light and joyof the Gospel. In her tireless work of evangelization, Mother Cabrini shows us what it means to be part of “a Church which is poor and for the poor” (Evangelii Gaudium, §198). She shows us how to venture beyond what is comfortable and familiar into unknown terrain, where one must rely on the grace and providence of God, trusting that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps 46:1, NRSV). She shows us how to see the face of Christ in the other; how to love God by loving our neighbor. Most importantly, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini is a saint for the Church of the United States as we face the many complexities surrounding the issue of immigration. As an immigrant herself, Mother Cabrini faced the difficulties of becoming acclimated to a new country, a new language, a new culture. St. Francis CabriniYet even in the midst of her own difficulties, she sought to help others first, setting her own needs and even her own health aside for the good of her fellow immigrants. She is a vivid reminder of our own call to bear the Gospel in all places, in all times, to all peoples, or, as Pope Francis states, “to go forth and give, to go out from ourselves, to keep pressing forward in our sowing of the good seed” (Evangelii Gaudium, §21). This going out from ourselves takes the form of radical hospitality towards all people, and finds concrete expression in the words of Jesus:

‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I as sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Mt 25:35–36, 40)

As we approach the time of year when the disparity between the haves and the have-nots grows all the more apparent, let us remember the life of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini as an example of radiant charity and radical hospitality, and let us strive to extend that same charity and hospitality to all whom we encounter, seeing in the faces of the poor, the immigrant, and the marginalized, the face of Christ himself.

Forever Building and Always Being Restored

May 14, 2012; Duncan Stroik..Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

Duncan Stroik

Professor of Architecture, University of Notre Dame

The month of October is filled with feast days of great saints – including the Church’s two newest, Sts. John Paul II and John XXIII. Near the beginning of the month, on October 4, we celebrated St. Francis of Assisi. As I reflected on the question posed for this blog post, “what does or ought the church building do to shape the wider culture?,” St. Francis came to mind as an instructive example of how building churches complements a larger goal of evangelization and culture-shaping.

St. Francis, of course, did not set out to build buildings; he set out to radically live and preach the Gospel. Others were attracted to his life and eventually the Franciscan Order developed. Over the past one thousand years the Franciscans have influenced the Church through the gift of their particular charism and have influenced the culture by their presence in the world. St. Francis received this call to give up everything and follow the Lord directly from Him in prayer. As St. Bonaventure tells us in his Life of St. Francis,

“One day when Francis went out to meditate in the fields he was passing by the church of San Damiano which was threatening to collapse because of extreme age. Inspired by the Spirit, he went inside to pray.

Kneeling before an image of the Crucified, he was filled with great fervor and consolation as he prayed. While his tear-filled eyes were gazing at the Lord’s cross, he heard with his bodily ears a voice coming from the cross, telling him three times, ‘Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin.’ Trembling with fear, Francis was amazed at the sound of this astonishing voice, since he was alone in the church; and as he received in his heart the power ofThe San Damiano Cross is the large Romanesque rood cross that St. Francis of Assisi was praying before when he received the commission from the Lord to rebuild the Church. The original cross presently hangs in the Basilica of Saint Clare (Basilica di Sant the divine words, he fell into a state of ecstasy. Returning finally to his senses, he prepared to put his whole heart into obeying the command he had received. He began zealously to repair the church materially, although the principle intention of the words referred to that Church which Christ purchased with his own blood, as the Holy Spirit afterward made him realize…”

St. Francis repaired San Damiano in Assisi with his own hands. Today this is often interpreted as almost a mistake by Francis, not the real work that the Lord was calling him to. And yet, St. Francis and the Franciscans continued to build churches. As the Order spread, they needed places for people to gather to listen to their preaching and places for people to receive the Sacraments. And so, they built. The Incarnational and sacramental nature of our faith shows us that the spiritual and the material go together. Indeed, even our human nature shows us this. We are made of body and soul joined together. The body, the material aspect, cannot be excluded. To build and re-build the Church, for St. Francis and for us today, we must build and re-build churches.

A church building is always a sign of the presence of the Church in the world. For some, it is a welcome sign of a home and of the presence of God in our cities. Catching sight of the towers, cross, or doScreen Shot 2014-10-27 at 11.43.19 PMme of a church is a reminder that God dwells with us, and if it is a Catholic
church, that He is dwelling in that particular place. “Did you not know that I would be in my Father’s house?” He asks, and gives us the assurance that we do know exactly where to find Him.

For others, a church building is a sign of contradiction and an unpleasant reminder that the Church is not going anywhere. T
here are some who would prefer to see churches that are indistinguishable from any other building, or hidden away in the outskirts of a city, so they can believe the voice of the Church can be equally suppressed. In his Choruses from ‘The Rock’, T.S. Eliot writes eloquently about this attitude of not wanting the Church:

I journeyed to London, to the timekept City,
Where the River flows, with foreign flotations.
There I was told: we have too many churches,
And too few chop-houses. There I was told:
Let the vicars retire. Men do not need the Church
In the place where they work, but where they spend their       Sundays.
In the City, we need no bells:
Let them waken the suburbs.
I journeyed to the suburbs, and there I was told:
We toil for six days, on the seventh we must motor
To Hindhead, or Maidenhead.
If the weather is foul we stay at home and read the papers.
In industrial districts, there I was told
Of economic laws.
In the pleasant countryside, there it seemed
That the country now is only fit for picnics.
And the Church does not seem to be wanted
In country or in suburbs; and in the town
Only for important weddings.

However, the Church does not stop proclaiming the Gospel just because it seems to be unwanted. And likewise, we should not cease building and restoring churches. We should follow the example of St. Francis and countless others who came before us. We should build large churches full of beauty that are uncompromising in their proclamation of the glory of God. We should build churches in the middle of cities, where they will be seen by all. We should restore and renew the beautiful churches we have, not abandon and close them. St. Francis shows us that our efforts to build can and will be fruitful. As T.S. Eliot says later in Choruses from ‘The Rock’, “The Church must be forever building, and always decaying / and always being restored.” Let us take up this work handed on to us, for the glory of God and the sanctification of the world!

The Temptation of Either/Or: Liturgy and Loving the World

HopeBoettner Hope ’15, Theology Undergraduate Fellow, Center for Liturgy         Recently, Elizabeth Scalia over at the Patheos Catholic blog wrote a piece about the need for the Church to be evangelical and missionary. She specifically highlighted what she called the “Incarnational” aspect of good evangelization. In the Incarnation, “the Word became flesh and dwelt” (“pitched His tent” as the translation sometimes reads) “among us.” And so she discusses the need for this Incarnational evangelization:

Incarnational Evangelization happens when Christian men and women leave the comfortable place of their own origin, just as the Word proceeded from the Father, to set a tent among the “others,” where they are at, and learns their names and their stories. It talks with them, eats with them, laughs and cries with them, helps to birth them and, if necessary, to bury them. It is first and foremost about service to the “other” and to Love. Which is God.

Talking about the need for the Church to be more evangelical is definitely on the forefront these days. Both Scott Hahn and George Weigel have recently written books about it and Pope Francis’ leadership style has further lead to the wider Church collectively thinking about this and acting on it in various ways. However, I’d like to make a bit of an addition to what Elizabeth Scalia is saying. When we talk about the Church as evangelical and missionary, about being present, about “serving,” we tend to set up a false dichotomy. We’ve got the “social justice” (“progressive,” as the media labels this) people on one side and those who want to teach or retain an understanding of the Church and the sacraments on the other (these folks usually get labeled the “Tradition and liturgy and sacraments,” the “conservative, Church-ey” kind of people). We see a classic example of this in how the Pope Benedict persona versus the Pope Francis persona gets played out in the media; Pope Benedict was a fuddy-duddy who cared about liturgy and translations of things, and Pope Francis really loves the people because he wants to hug and serve them. (This is also unfair to how Pope Benedict actually led as well, but that’s for another piece at another time.) The progressive versus conservative, reductionist lens of understanding what faith is and how faith works—especially when it comes to understanding how we ought to evangelize– does a disservice to the Church. I love the quote Scalia cited from Pope Benedict about thinking about what ought to be the goal in evangelization. Christianity is not about a concept or a cause. Christianity is about a Person:

“One doesn’t begin to be a Christian because of an ethical decision or a great idea, but rather because of an encounter with an event, with a Person, who gives new horizons to life, and with that, a decisive orientation. The evangelization of the person and of human communities depends totally on this encounter with Jesus Christ.” statue

The way to be an Incarnational and an evangelizing, missionary Church comes not in choosing one version of presence. In order to be “present in people’s lives,” and to walk with them, we don’t have to lose the chance to “understand the Real Presence” and the sacraments. Our evangelizing mission in this world, our seeking the face of Christ as we walk with with our brothers and sisters does not come from leaning on one over the other. Learning how to better be an incarnational Church comes in learning that we can hold the people and the Person in tandem. It comes in learning that we can and need to say social justice and liturgy. Relationships and worship. Community building and sacraments. Active action and deep lives of prayer. The two are not diametrically opposed. Far from it! They absolutely need each other. I think that we sometimes think of liturgies, of the Mass, and of the sacramental life of the Church as boring, as non-incarnational and as less helpful at building relationships with Christ and with others because the latter are old. For example: the Mass is a sleepy habit to most of us. It is an hour’s length worth of motions that we go through, that many of us have been doing as long as we can remember. This is why the new translation of the Roman Missal jerked us out of our complacency for a short while and made us think about what we were saying at Mass. What do I mean here by “old”? It’s time to turn to my good friend Gilbert Keith Chesterton.Gilbert_Chesterton

“A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is…. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” (From the chapter “The Ethics of Elfland” in Orthodoxy)

In order to fully restore the concept of how we can evangelize as a Church, how we can most deeply speak to the needs of this world, we have to remember both to be present to people in relationships and in walking with them through a liturgical life. To do that we have to realize that we have aged in sin and that the heart of our relationships have gotten a bit stony. Instead of beating excitedly with young love because we encounter Christ in a deeply Incarnational way through the sacraments, our hearts have old-married couple syndrome. So the action of the Church and the rooted nature of the Church need to be constantly feeding off of each other, for the betterment of both of them. I think this is why two of the most important documents from Vatican II were on the mission (Gaudium et Spes) and the nature (Lumen Gentium)of the Church. The AND is where we ought to be. Our Lord held this tension in mind better than anyone. In Matthew 28, the classic citation for evangelization, He said:

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” BaptemeFotosearchsmall(1)

Because He is with us always and He has called us to be with others always, He has simultaneously commanded that we baptize and practice and fully live the sacramental life of the Church. The way we observe all that He has commanded us is to properly hold the tension between active, present love in the world that meets people where they are the way that Christ did, while simultaneously loving and being loved in the way He is present to us in the sacramental life of the Church.

Of Eunuchs, Emmaus, and Holy Water Fonts

Rick BeckerRichard Becker, RN, MS, MA

Associate Faculty, Bethel College, School of Nursing

Co-Director of Religious Education, St. Matthew Cathedral 

Editors’ note: This post first appeared on God-Haunted Lunatic.

Baptism is enough, it is sufficient to evangelize.
Pope Francis

Katharine made her First Holy Communion on May 4 – a momentous event, a holy moment! Naturally, she received some gifts to mark the occasion: A scapular (the plastic bothered her; I’ll get her a cloth one), a child’s Bible, and a beautiful ceramic holy water font. The font clearly caught her fancy, and she asked me that same evening how we could get the “special” water for it.

Fortunately,BoyAtHolyWaterFont-b I already had a small bottle of holy water in the house, so we hung up the font near her bed, filled the reservoir, and then dipped our fingers to bless ourselves. She went to bed very content – happy to have received Jesus in one Sacrament earlier in the day, and then encounter him again in that mini-Sacramental reminder just before sleep.

My guess is that she’s been using that font pretty regularly since then because of what happened soon after First Communion. After donning her PJs, Kath sought me out, holding up one hand very solemnly above the other. Without saying anything, she touched her wet fingers to my forehead, made the sign of the cross, and then headed off to bed. It was a blessed moment, come and gone so quickly, and so profound: My daughter, blessing me, and giving me such an intimate reminder of my baptismal dignity.

That profound encounter came to mind as I listened to the first reading on May 8 about St. Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. You remember: The seemingly chance encounter on the road; an explication of opaque biblical texts; an entreaty to linger followed by the administration of a sacrament; and finally, a miraculous disappearance that paved the way for an apostolic journey.

Then it dawned on me: I’d just heard the same basic story during Katharine’s First Communion Mass! Only then, it was Luke telling about the two disciples who ran into Jesus on the Road to Emmaus.

Cradle Catholics will have grown up hearing the Emmaus story as an image of the Mass: The Lord’s explaining the Scriptures parallels the Liturgy of the Word, and then, in Emmaus itself, there’s a meal that concludes with the breaking of bread in which the disciples “recognized the Lord” – an obvious parallel to the Liturgy of Jan_Wildens_Landscape_with_Christ_and_his_Disciples_on_the_Road_to_Emmausthe Eucharist.

The implications of those parallels are made plain in the sudden disappearance of Jesus precisely at the moment he was recognized – the moment, that is, when his bodily presence became almost redundant since he had become truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. In other words, those disciples in Emmaus had nothing on us: We have Jesus here today in our Tabernacles just as much as they did around that Emmaus dinner table!

But, back to Philip and the eunuch – the similarities with the Emmaus story are striking, and many scholars have commented on it. Besides, both stories were recorded by St. Luke – the Emmaus story in his Gospel, and the Ethiopian eunuch story in his Gospel sequel, the Book of Acts. Coincidence? I don’t think so. And, as I mentioned, we’ve got a pretty good idea of what Luke was intending in the Emmaus narrative, but what about the Ethiopian convert? And why the parallels?

Here’s a few thoughts inspired by Kath’s holy water font.

First, Luke uses the eunuch story to teach us about baptism – that we’re all utterly unworthy of the divine life it transmits to us, and there’s nothing we can do to earn it. It’s totally free – like Kath coming to me and bestowing her blessing that evening. Completely unexpected; a startlingly fresh gift. “Look, there is water,” the man asks Philip. “What is to prevent my being baptized?”

Apparently not anything! Not the brevity of his catechetical formation, not his pagan background, and not even the fact that he was mutilated and made impotent – something that would’ve prevented his being fully admitted to God’s family under Mosaic law. The adoption of this complete outsider into the body of believers marks the newfangled Way of Christ as radically open – extravagant, even. As extra(c) National Trust, Anglesey Abbey; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundationvagant as God himself!

But there’s a responsibility that comes with the gift, and that leads to my second point – the disappearance. When Christ disappears in the Emmaus story we understand that to mean that the Lord had become present in the Eucharist. So, in the Acts narrative? When Philip vanishes? What else can Luke mean than that the apostolic authority has now become manifest in the newly baptized!

What? He can’t be serious! The foreigner had barely covered a rudimentary overview of the whole Judeo-Christian enterprise, and now we’re to see him on the same level as an Apostle appointed by Christ himself?

Yes, indeed. Luke records that the eunuch “continued on his way rejoicing.” And we, who also have been baptized, are called to that as well. And every single one of those cute little infants we baptize in our churches on Sunday mornings. They’re all called to be apostles – we’re all called – to spread the Gospel, to preach the Faith. Even the Pope says so:

Do we believe in this? That baptism is enough – sufficient to evangelize? [All of the baptized must] announce Jesus with our life, with our witness and with our words. When we do this, the church becomes a mother church that bears children. But when we don’t do it, the church becomes not a mother but a baby sitter church, which takes care of the child to put him to sleep.

And that leads to my final point: The whole eunuch thing – what’s that all about, right? Very awkward. Like trying to talk to junior high boys about St. Paul’s teaching on circumcision. (NOTE: I’ve tried this – forget it. It’s impossible. If you ask me, just skip to the Parables and forget about circumcision until they get into college.)

Nevertheless, awkward or no, the eunuch must be dealt with. On a superficial level, Luke notes that the Ethiopian official is a eunuch simply because it was the case – it was noteworthy in Luke’s mind, perhaps as a way of identifying the actual individual in question. We have to keep in mind that the Ethiopian eunuch and other biblical characters aren’t just literary devices utilized by authors to make theological points. Although it’s true that Scripture doesn’t record events the same way the New York Times would today, those whom God inspired to compose Holy writ were still jotting down actual occurrearticle-2538097-1A97C26800000578-298_634x645nces involving actual people. It’s God who orchestrated events to reveal truths; the human writers just recorded and reflected on them.

That being the case, the fact that this early catechumen-turned-neophyte in Acts was a eunuch takes on a deeper meaning which Luke draws out. Obviously, a eunuch is infertile by definition, and yet, once baptized, this eunuch immediately sets out to proclaim the Gospel and plant seeds of faith. Tradition even goes so far as to associate this early convert with the foundation of the very ancient church in Ethiopia. The infertile transformed into the fertile  that should be me, too!

Ah, but there’s risk involved in being an apostle – a risk of humiliation and shunning, even a risk of death. It’s no accident, I think, that this story of the pagan Ethiopian convert shows up in Acts on the heels of Luke’s mention of the martyrdom of St. Stephen and its aftermath:

And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria.

Baptism is an infinite boon folded in with a dire warning: Beware! Danger ahead! And yet, new life as well. More life than you can possibly imagine! So much life that the risk of martyrdom will pale in comparison! The Catechism, quoting Vatican II, teaches us as much:

“Reborn as sons of God, [the baptized] must profess before men the faith they have received from God through the Church” and participate in the apostolic and missionary activity of the People of God.

Thus, when my daughter dips her fingers in the font to cross herself or me? It’s no small thing. It’s a reminder of baptismal grace, to be sure, but also a reminder of apostolic burden: Be a missionary; proclaim the Word; make Jesus present wherever you find yourself, no matter the cost!

Next time I dunk my own fingers in Kathy’s holy water font, I’ll think twice, and pray for strength – for both of us.