Tag Archives: Lent

The Image and “Like”-ness of God: Social Media and Self-Worth

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Maggie Duncan
Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith (2015)
University of Notre Dame, 
Class of 2017

Have you ever been jealous of Kim Kardashian?  I have. Not directly, of course. But when it comes to social media—Instagram, Facebook, Twitter—I do like a good “like.” If anyone knows how to get those, it’s our friend Kim K. I don’t bring this up because I think we can draw heavenly similes from the Kardashians’ tweets. I bring it up because kim k 2in my journey with God, I struggle with a similar vice as Miss Kardashian—the need to brand myself and control how I rank among others.

Social media is a weird beast, and it’s something  for which I’ve never been very good at controlling my desire. Some people can look at a few pictures or comments and be happy, but not me. Facebook became a way for me to check how my life ranked. It became a tool I used to distort and manipulate myself. I used social media as a way to craft an image of myself to try to get people to like me, admire me, or want to be me.

My misuse of social media was not just applied to my own profile. I also used it to judge others. How many likes did they get? Where did they go this weekend? How good is their life? How worthy can they—or rather, we—prove that we are to each other?

I tried to limit social media to heal these patterns a little bit. This past winter, though, I couldn’t tell you how many times I checked, scrolled, liked, and “hearted” per day. That scared me. Where was my heart if this was where I put all my time? Were my thoughts ever on things not relating to my own image or the images of others? Because of this wake up call, I decided to give up social media for Lent.

After I gave up social media, I felt like I was going through a social withdrawal. When I couldn’t be on Facebook or Instagram or the #Twittersphere, I found myself feeling isolated. I couldn’t be affirmed by random virtual entities anymore. I still had my real life friends—but I could no longer spend time crafting my persona.

social mediaDuring Lent, I realized that I wasn’t really living for God or for love, but for likes. I had learned to see myself as worthy only if a certain number of people approved of my image. I ignored the real connections—the “have a good morning” texts or the excited hug from a friend I hadn’t seen in two weeks—for the number of tiny “thumbs ups” I could get on a good profile picture.

As Lent went on, it got easier to be away from it all. In pulling away, though, I saw that my lurking Facebook account was not the only flaw. The whole reason social media is such an issue for me is because of a deep need in my heart to be seen as important.

As Christians and as humans, we are supposed to put our sisters and brothers before ourselves.  My whole sense of self-worth came from how I could do better, be better, be more than others. I found the idea of truly being seen—really seen, live and unedited and sprinkled with imperfections—terrifying, to say the least. I rejected it because my groaning pride and my trembling insecurity would not have it.

When social media, the broken toy that it was, was taken away, I stopped being able to mold myself into a “perfect” person and stopped seeing others as simple categories. I slowly discovered the possibility of seeing us all in an honest light. We weren’t reduced anymore. Rather, we became as detailed and complex as we actually are—we became real humans again. Without this all-consuming project of crafting myself and others, I had some spare time. I used some of that time to pray, to be mindful, to be where I was supposed to be: here, in my real life, not just in the imaginary one where my ego had trapped me.

Letting go of the control I wanted wasn’t easy. A friendly, local priest told me one night when I was struggling that I should say a simple prayer to give up on my willful control, not just in social media but in life: “Dear God, please help me ask You to Help me.”

Dear God, please help me ask You to Help me.

That’s a hard prayer. But it brings a lot of peace.

As I got help from God and from the lovely people in the real world, I slowly started seeing more and more loveliness. I was able to be more grateful. My brain was freed up to love people more instead of insta-judging them. I was able to be myself because I was released from thinking about me and my persona all the time. I was finally not all tied up in the stress of trying to brand myself. I had no social media image to lmichelangelo creationean on during times of insecurity. I could only leap into trust with one fact: I was specifically and intentionally made in God’s image, and that is enough.

But Lent was ending soon. If I told you that Easter came and I stayed off of social media and lived a perfect life, I would be SO lying. Easter did come, and I fell down in the “ashiness” of my own sin, spending four hours on Facebook that day.  (That’s five and two-thirds episodes of Keeping Up with The Kardashians, for those of you wondering.)

Acknowledging this failure, I reflected on what I learned during Lent and what I should do going forward. I now have timers on my computer and blocks on certain websites, but most importantly, I now understand how much easier it is to rest in how God sees me—beautiful, flawed, and good—instead of how I want people to see me.

No lasting peace comes from likes, double taps, followers, or creeping around on the “interwebs.” Not even Kim Kardashian, God bless her, can promise that twitter fame or a show on E! will bring peace. Lasting peace, a gift from God, is only present in a heart that rests in God, open to loving the people He gives you to love.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27).

Seven Last Words: Into Your Hands, I Commit My Spirit

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Vision

Contact Author

 

 

 

 

“I like to know in advance precisely what I’ve got to pay.  I like to work to a tariff.  What I found attractive in mercenary love was, probably, that it had a fixed price.”

These are not the words of Jesus Christ; these are the words of Louis, the central character and dominant voice of Francois Mauriac’s novel, Vipers’ Tangle.  Louis is a master interpreter.  The psychological profile that Mauriac creates shows a man who, over the course of a lifetime, has learned how to reinterpret nearly every event or action on the part of others according to his own predetermined narrative.  In a passing thought he admits how he despises interactions with waiters and cab drivers because, as is the custom, customers respond to their services with tips, which, ostensibly, exceed the stated price of the service.  Louis hates tipping.  He hates what he can’t calculate in advance because it thwarts his control of the narrative.

PitViperMany of us are accustomed to tipping, but I imagine rather than standing apart from Louis here, we rather tend to hide what Louis makes bear: we, too, hate tipping.  We create certain rubrics in our minds as to what the service rendered should be like, calculating the cost of that quality of service—measured according to our expectations—at the end of a meal or the end of a ride, or throughout either with an internalized ledger, so as to calculate what we owe in the context of this commercial exchange.  In this way, tipping ordinarily becomes a form of compensation within a modulated but still quite fixed schema for determining the meaning of things, which here happens to concern the transaction of fee for services.  Louis didn’t want to be bothered with adjusting his scale while many of us are practiced in doing so.  In the end, though, most of us really do hate tipping… real tipping, which confounds calculation.

At the risk of making this rather too crass, I can’t help but think that with his last breath, Jesus leaves a tip.  A real tip.  An uncalculated, incalculable tip that is not only in excess of what is earned and what is owed, but which also relinquishes him of the very power to interpret.  Father, into your hands I commend my spirit (Lk 23:46, RSV).

This man Jesus, who returned again and again to prayer—as was his custom (Luke 22:39, RSV)—drew in the words of the Psalter as his living breath so that when he exhaled that last time those words came out as his own.  (They were, after all, His words to begin with: the Word.)  What he received is what he gave, without sluggishness or guile.  And so when the words of the 31st Psalm accompany the handing over of his spirit, he makes himself into that definitive act of trust of which the Psalmist mused: You will not abandon me into enemy hands, but will set my feet in a free and open space (Psalm 31:9, NAB).

What are these enemies but scheming men (31:21), those who construct tiny worlds in which to control meaning?  Scheming men set up ledgers to preserve themselves from loss, the ones who “know in advance what I’ve got to pay” and obstinately refuse to give an iota more than what is justly required, according to one’s own reckoning.  The true enemy, then, is not any man himself or even the whole lot of men, but rather the scheming in which men become entangled, in which they allow themselves to become twisted and turned so that giving something freely, without interpretation, is no longer possible.  It is their custom.

The untangling of this mess of calculations and gaming, these knots of measurements that wrap around often unannounced but nevertheless operative scales of value and compensation is not—as we might expect—to try to find someway to justify giving more.  The grip of the enemy is the urge to control meaning; this is what must be cut.

IntoYourHandsTo be and to create and to give and to live… and then to let go of the meaning of it all, to give that power over to another—this is the peculiar genius of the Christ, the logic of God.  His life is his work of art and his work of love and, as Hans Urs von Balthasar comments, “he is not so tasteless as to interpret himself,” (Life Out of Death, 39).  In short, Jesus leaves a tip: he deposits his power of interpretation into the hands of his Father—the hands of the one who does not scheme—as the absolute act of trust, of radical gratitude that does not say thank you for some thing but just says thank you, pure and simple, no strings attached, without consulting a ledger, absolved of calculation and measurement.

Jesus’ tip is the move outside the framework of fixed prices, beyond the tit for tat and furtive quid pro quo of a scheming world.  He hands over the interpretation of himself to his Father, his own ‘freedom of interpretation’, that power to make any claim as to what he himself means or what he himself meant or what he himself will mean.  All at once he releases all of it in this final act, the only act of his entire life: I give myself to You.

Seven Last Words: It is Finished

Shepherd HeadshotMegan Shepherd

Associate Director, Notre Dame Vision 

It is finished.

I have had the privilege of standing both with my father and grandpa as they each took their final breath.  Two years and one day after my grandpa breathed his last, I stood again beside a hospital bed holding the hand and stroking the forehead of one whom I loved, watching intently for the next rise of the chest, an indication that life still lingered.

For both of them the end came suddenly, but not unexpectedly:  my grandpa after a week long struggle to recover from a heart attack, and my father after an extended period of time in and out of the hospital for a variety of cardiac and pulmonary issues.  But knowing the end is coming did nothing to prepare me for standing there as it happens, gazing upon one beloved in the midst of the complexity of human relationships.

Saying goodbye to my grandpa was difficult, as was witnessing the pain and grief carried by my grandma, my mother and her siblings along with my brother, sister and my cousins. Yet there was satisfaction in a life well lived, a man well loved. Listening to the stories and memories shared by my family as I began to plan his funeral, one message shone forth so strongly that I insisted on using it as the first reading.

I give thanks to my God at every remembrance of you, praying always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right that I should think this way about all of you, because I hold you in my heart, you who are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God (Philippians 1:3-11).

My family – my mom, aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings – continue the good work begun in my grandpa by God.  For my grandpa, “it is finished” meant not the end of the work of God in him, but the drawing to a close of his role here on earth.

Standing beside my father as he died was a very different experience.  The years before had been filled with anger, pain, estrangement and isolation.  Yet over the previous year grace had broken through bringing about a measure of reconciliation, healing and hope.

Yet there was so much still unresolved.

Questions yet unasked.

Answers yet unspoken.

It can’t be finished.

I have so much more to say . . .

to apologize for

to understand

to forgive.

Yet as his lungs continued to fail, we knew it was time to let go. To cling to him would only prolong his suffering.  As the medical equipment was cleared away, his entire body relaxed and upon his face came a look of peace at odds with the churning in my heart.

With each raspy breath, we wondered if it was his last. As the time between each gasp lengthened, my brother, sister and I sat together in the tension between clinging to our dad and letting him go. At some point we realized – it had been silent for some time.

It is finished.

Our father is dead.

Jesus Dixit Consummatum EstFor the disciples at the foot of the cross, how broken must they have felt?

For Mary, who just watched her son die, would she ever feel whole again?

The days leading up to the cross were filled with joy, feasting and celebration until suddenly – but not unexpectedly – things changed.

Their world was upended and their Savior

Their Christ

Their friend

lay dying on the cross.

To them, to us, Jesus speaks.

He uses his last breath to utter words confounding to our hearts.

It is finished.

Jesus’ time on earth was done. For us to cling to him would trap us in this place, in this moment, in death. But to allow ourselves to relinquish our grasp on who we thought he should be, how we thought this should end makes space for the Spirit to move in us, continuing the good work begun in our creation out of love and brought to perfection on the cross.

The past is finished.

We hold the memories in our hearts

and turn our faces to the sun, for salvation has begun.

Seven Last Words: “I Thirst”

HopeHope Bethany ’15

Theology Undergraduate

Fellow, Center for Liturgy

I do not know what it is to be truly, desperately, physically thirsty. I know what it is to feel parched, perhaps–  in the way anyone who has ever spent too much time working outside on a hot day does, or those who can recall craving water after working out do. But as everyone who knows me can testify, my water bottle and I are perpetually attached at the hip; I am a spoiled member of a tiny percentage of humanity who has access to clean, safe, refreshing water at every moment, every day.  My water bottle is next size_550x415_haitito my bed while I sleep at night; it is often in my hand during the day; it is on my desk while in class; it is in the cupholder on the dorm treadmill each time I work out. Indeed, it is on the Starbucks table next to me as I write this. I do not know what it means to desperately thirst in the way that Jesus does in this moment of His passion.

We recognize that when Jesus hung from the Cross dying and said, “I thirst,” he was truly physically thirsting in a way that many of us probably have not experienced. Nothing had passed His lips since He drank from the chalice of His last supper the night before, and in the meantime He had suffered through His agony in the garden and all of the horrors leading up to His crucifixion. If we are ever tempted to forget how real Jesus’ humanity is and was, the descriptions of the passion and His acknowledgement, ‘I thirst,’ ought to shake us out of our nonchalance. Jesus hungered; He thirsted; He sweated; He bled; He fell and tripped; He wept.

But the meaning of “I thirst,” while important to help us understand the struggle that Jesus experienced in the fullness of suffering what it means to be a genuine (in all ways but sin) thirsting flesh-and-bone human being, is not the only way to think about this saying of Jesus’. St. Alphonsus Liguori (and a long string of Tradition in the Church) thinks about Jesus’ saying “I thirst” while hanging from the Cross in both a physical and a spiritual sense. He says in his Meditation on the Seven Last Words:

“Severe was this bodily thirst, which Jesus Christ endured on the Cross through His loss of Blood, first in the garden, and afterwards in the hall of judgment, at His scourging and crowning with thorns; and, lastly, upon the Cross, where four streams of blood gushed forth from the Wounds of His pierced hands and feet as from four fountains. But far more terrible was His spiritual thirst, that is, His ardent desire to save all mankind, and to suffer still more for us, as Blosius says, in order to show us His love. On this St. Laurence Justinian writes: “This thirst came from the fount of love.”

St. Alphonsus takes Jesus’ spiritual thirst to mean His desire to save mankind—a kind of thirst for the fulfillment of His mission, rooted in His love for us as He suffered. Knowing Jesus’ zeal for His Father’s will and the fact that He has not turned back is important; it makes sense that up to the last Jesus would have been ‘thirsting’ for His victory over death that would lead us into eternal life. I think there’s another layer to it, though. We sometimes use the term “spiritual dryness” to talk about struggling times in our lives of faith. Or we mention when we feel alone, wandering and unsure where life will lead, that we feel as if we are “in the desert.” In those times we feel as if we are in a lifeless place. There is sand and toil and maybe it looks like there is no end to the present struggle.

That united physical and spiritual understanding of thirst was never more truly realized as it is when Jesus suffered on the Cross and sorrowfully, desperately said, “I thirst.”

Gethsemane4-004Jesus is absolutely longing– spiritually thirsting— for God His Father. He has already demonstrated that He feels abandoned and alone. To say it is poignant or powerful is a gross understatement. He who was to be the water who would make us never thirst again, in the most sorrowful and suffering moments of His passion realizes and lives the words of all those who have suffered horrifically at the hands of the human condition. This Jesus knows what it is to feel utterly alone, thirsting physically but also desperately thirsting for companionship, for hope, for relief, for kindness from somewhere— and we might imagine for an end to the thirst and the pain. How tempting must it have been to at this time to give in to those who mocked and scorned Him, jeering at Him to come down from the Cross and save Himself.

When Jesus says, “I thirst,” the Word who was, who is, and who will always be—the Word who was there at the very creation of water and who Himself is the life giving water of eternal life–  is in this moment denied water in every single sense that we ever use it. Water as quenching physical thirst, water as cleansing, water as healing, water as life-giving, water as connected with baptism— in every single sense that we can think of it, Jesus longs for water and for His thirst to be quenched and is abjectly denied it.

There is a lot more we could say or should say. But I think that in Psalm 42, the psalmist expresses it far more eloquently, truthfully, and painfully than I ever could hope to. As we reflect on Jesus’ saying, “I thirst,” may we keep the psalmist’s words in mind, and be reminded that the psalmist who mourns, feeling abandoned, and suffers longingly for God also ends by saying, “Hope in God; I will praise Him still; my savior and my God.”

 

Psalm 42:

Like the deer that yearns
for running streams,
so my soul is yearning
for you, my God.

deer

My soul is thirsting for God,
the God of my life;
when can I enter and see
the face of God?

My tears have become my bread,
by night, by day,
as I hear it said all the day long:
“Where is your God?”

These things will I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I would lead the rejoicing crowd
into the house of God,
amid cries of gladness and thanksgiving,
the throng wild with joy.

Why are you cast down, my soul,
why groan within me?
Hope in God; I will praise him still,
my savior and my God.

My soul is cast down within me
as I think of you,
from the country of Jordan and Mount Hermon,
from the Hill of Mizar.

Deep is calling on deep,
in the roar of the waters;
your torrents and all your waves
swept over me.

By day the Lord will send
his loving kindness;
by night I will sing to him,
praise the God of my life.

I will say to God, my rock:
“Why have your forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
oppressed by the foe?”

With cries that pierce me to my heart,
my enemies revile me,
saying to me all day long:
“Where is your God?”

Why are you cast down, my soul,
why groan within me?
Hope in God; I will praise him still,
my savior and my God.

Seven Last Words: Behold Your Son, Behold Your Mother

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

My son loves his mother. The depths of this love, this total trust of his mother, is often revealed in those moments in which he encounters a source of pain or discomfort. At these times, he looks upon my wife with pure hope, aware that it is only her tender embrace that could rescue him from the terrible pain or fear that is undertaking him. Of course, as he grows up, he will learn that his mother is not always able to save him from such terror-stricken moments. And his mother, in the midst of such moments, will be equally terror stricken, her heart pierced with the recognition of her own powerlessness in shaping her son’s entire future.

Something of this maternal and filial relationship is captured in the intimate encounter shared by Christ with his mother upon the cross in the Gospel of John:

…standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Mag’dalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home (Jn. 19:25-27).

SorrowsThe God-man gazes with love upon his mother, who is herself looking with total pathos upon the suffering of her son.

  • Mary, who held her infant son that night in Bethlehem, when there was nothing but a cave for shelter.
  • Mary who went with her son into Egypt, encountering the terror of a world in which violence reigns.
  • Mary who lost and found her beloved son, her only son, the son she loved, while on pilgrimage back from the Temple.
  • Mary, who held her dying husband, Joseph, soothed by the presence of her child, Jesus.
  • Mary, who let go of her son as he was manifested to the world not merely as the son of Mary but the beloved Son of the Father.
  • Mary, who must have known the threats faced by her son, by the Son, as he loved the world unto the end, a world not used to such love.

What must Mary have been thinking as she gazed upon the cross, seeing the lonely suffering of her son, the rest of the disciples absent (except for the beloved disciple). Romanos the Melodist, thinking through this moment of encounter, writes:

‘You are on your way, my child, to unjust slaughter,

and no one suffers with you. Peter is not going with you, he who said,

‘I will never deny you, even though I die.’

Thomas has left you, he who cried out, ‘Let us all die with him!’

The rest too, your own and your companions

who are to judge the tribes of Israel; where are they now?

Not one of all of them, but you alone, my child,

one on behalf of all, are dying. Instead of them you have saved all.

Instead of them you have made satisfaction for all, my Son and my God (“Lament of the Mother of God,” 3).

IsenheimMaryHow much the mother of God wanted to interrupt her Son’s suffering, to take it upon herself just as thousands upon thousands of times she soothed the infant and toddler Jesus, who ran into her arms for protection. And now, his arms are nailed to the cross, unable to run to his mother for protection.

Yet now, it is the Son who offers his mother a healing balm. She will not be alone but will be the mother of the beloved disciple. That beloved disciple, who is not simply another character in the Gospel, but is all of us who are “lying close to the breast of Jesus” (13:24). Upon the cross, Mary becomes not simply the mother of Jesus but the suffering and tender mother of all of us.

Charles Peguy in his Portal of the Mystery of Hope takes up this theme. Describing a father, who gives his three children in sickness over to the Blessed Virgin, writes:

And yet She, who had taken them, she was never short on children.

She had had others before these three, she will have others, she had others afterwards.

She had had others, she will have others through centuries of centuries.

And She, who had taken them, he knew for sure that she would take them.

She wouldn’t have had the heart to leave them orphans…

She couldn’t have just left them by the gate…

She had been forced to take them,

She who had taken them (28-29).

Because she is the mother, who knows the suffering of her son, she gazes with the same pathos upon all of humanity, who are destined to belong to her Son’s Body, the Church. All of us are part of her brood.

And we contemplate (this week above all), with our dearest mother Mary, the suffering of our brother, Jesus:

Make me feel as thou hast felt;
make my soul to glow and melt
with the love of Christ my Lord.

Holy Mother! pierce me through,
in my heart each wound renew
of my Savior crucified:

Let me share with thee His pain,
who for all my sins was slain,
who for me in torments died.

Let me mingle tears with thee,
mourning Him who mourned for me,
all the days that I may live:

By the Cross with thee to stay,
there with thee to weep and pray,
is all I ask of thee to give.

Virgin of all virgins blest!,
Listen to my fond request:
let me share thy grief divine (Stabat Mater);

We contemplate the suffering of the Son with Mary, our mother, not simply upon the cross but as we gaze at a humanity still undergoing the torment of sin and death. We see his face in the child aborted, in the immigrant spat upon, in those who seem to have no one to love them at all. And together with Mary, our hearts are filled with the pathos of love, desiring that the mercy of her Son might be experienced by all.

Let me, to my latest breath,
in my body bear the death
of that dying Son of thine.

Wounded with His every wound,
steep my soul till it hath swooned,
in His very Blood away (Stabat Mater)…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practicing Lent: Where Humility is Truly Present

Tim KenneyTimothy J. Kenney

’14 MTS Candidate 

Boston College School of Theology and Ministry

So far my favorite class this semester has been a seminar on Teresa of Ávila. It’s been a great blessing for someone with interests in theology and spirituality to have the opportunity to read and discuss the writings of such a beautiful saint. This week, we are reading the first part of The Interior Castle, what the scholar and translator Kieran Kavanaugh calls her “spiritual masterpiece.” We’ve read through quite a bit of her writing so far so I was somewhat taken aback–but mostly really really excited–when I saw this in his introduction. I mean, everything so far in the course has been great, and a person who has devoted his life’s work to studying St. Teresa thinks this is the best? Bring it on.

Even though this reading is for a class and has an academic grounding, it would be pretty hard not to involve myself personally in the text. Teresa wasn’t writing treatises or grand comprehensive theologies. She was writing to the sisters under her direction who were pursuing a life of holiness. They wanted to know how best to serve God and in what ways this should be desired and lived out in their vocation as Carmelite nuns. As someone whose prayer life is in constant need of improvement, it was hard to turn a blind eye to the places Teresa’s writing was speaking directly to where I need to grow. Her books are practically bursting with how important humility is to the spiritual life and developing this virtue is the foundation upon which everything else stands.

Immediately prior to the passage quoted below, which is taken from Dwelling Place 3, Chapter 1, Teresa describes how important it is not to jealously desire spiritual favors (e.g. contemplation) from God. These favors are given to some and not others according to God’s will. It does not indicate a lacking or inferiority in one’s soul to never be granted these gifts. This life of prayer and devotion to God is never complete or fulfilled but rather necessitates constant attention and effort, so even the person who has received great favors still has much room for growth. We the reader must always desire that God lead us closer to Him. The Sisters in particular cannot assume this work is done once they renounce all possessions and things of this world. They must persevere in desiring more and more intimate union with God, always seeking greater conformity with His will. Then came the passage that really jumped off the page for me.

“This perseverance includes the condition…that you consider yourselves useless servants…and believe that you have not put our Lord under any obligation to grant you these kinds of favors. Rather, as one who has received more, you are more indebted.”

For a moment I wondered whether this last line meant this perseverance was only important for Sisters who had “received more.” It is what follows this line, however, that absolutely drove the message home and showed me how central this point is to all of us.

“What can we do for a God so generous that he died for us, created us, and gives us being? Shouldn’t we consider ourselves lucky to be able to repay something of what we owe Him for His service toward us? I say these words ‘His service toward us’ unwillingly; but the fact is that He did nothing else but serve us all the time He lived in this world. And yet we ask Him again for favors and gifts.” (Interior Castle III:1.8)

TeresaofAvilaI’m well aware that too much of my prayer is focused on myself. So much of the time I spend with God is devoted to what I need or what I’m stressed about. But here Teresa takes it a step further and asks if, in the times we think we are being the most humble or selfless, we are in fact acting for our own gain. It is well attested in the Christian tradition, and more that most in Teresa’s own life, that God grants great favors to those who serve Him. But when I do pray for others or serve them as my neighbor, it shouldn’t be so that I too can experience contemplation or receive a greater reward in heaven. We are called to serve because we must, because of the sheer immensity of God’s generosity. When we do not appreciate simply how amazing the gift of our salvation truly is we demand more from Him and, in doing so, fail to realize we are actually asking for less.

Its not that we’re wrong in desiring to receive something, its that we’re not recognizing that we’ve already been given more than we could ever think to ask for. Because of this, we ask even more of an already prodigal God. “We are fonder of consolations than we are of the cross” (III:1.9). This is where I think this passage is particularly fitting for reflection during the season of Lent. How often do we look at Lent as a time of earning our salvation? It’s already been given! We can’t earn what we don’t deserve! Don’t think of this as cause for inactivity, but rather a demand that we commit our entire lives to serving God and rejoice in the opportunity “to repay something,” no matter how insignificant that may seem. Exactly how amazing and unbelievable the Paschal Mystery is, which is too often lost because of how familiar and mundane it has become to our consciousness, is precisely what Teresa is trying to remind us of. Even if God never gives us anything else as spiritual nourishment, let what we have received be enough.

“Be convinced that where humility is truly present God will give a peace and conformity – even though He may never give consolations – by which one will walk with greater contentment than will others with their consolations. For often, as you have read, the divine Majesty gives these consolations to the weaker souls; although I think we would not exchange these consolations for the fortitude of those who walk in dryness. We are fonder of consolations than we are of the cross. Test us, Lord – for You know the truth – so that we may know ourselves.” (III:1.9)

St. Teresa of Avila, pray for us.

Practicing Lent: Netflix in the Desert

Samuel BellafioreScreen Shot 2015-01-23 at 1.43.20 PM

Undergraduate Fellow

B.A. 2015 Philosophy, Vocal Performance

 

Go through a dorm on the weekend and you can find a lot of shut doors. If you could see through the doors you’d find the new trend is that students watch shows by themselves, earbuds in, in the privacy of their rooms. People have stopped watching TV together. Call it the Netflix problem.

The Netflix problem is twofold: the first is the temptation of binge watching and second is the loss of community.

For a world that’s so unaware of the infinite, contemporary society also has major problems when it deals with infinity. It’s so easy to keep scrolling down your Facebook newsfeed because it never ends. And the more people post, the more infinitely you can scroll. The same problem occurs at the end of every episode on Netflix and Hulu. You could pick up and move on to another activity. But another episode awaits. “Next episode playing in 15 seconds…14…13.”

house-of-cardsThere’s no time to consider whether to watch another episode. There isn’t even time to consider the episode you just watched. And without a steel will, you’ll almost certainly end up watching another episode.

And how couldn’t you? The cliffhanger ending, which once tried to get audiences back in seven days, now can get them back in under 15 seconds. Obviously the cliffhanger is great artistic tool, but more and more it seems to be the way of getting people to keep watching. It becomes less a part of the story and more a tool to suck people in. And four hours later, there you are.

Is there any substitute for the silent seconds after a book, a show or a sonata ends? Netflix is ironic: The shock of an ending, the thing that urges you to keep watching, is no longer real shock. It’s not primarily emotional, connected deep down to how you relate to the people or events in the show as though they were real.  Shock ceases to be shock and becomes a tool through which you can be convinced to watch some more. Into that shock comes the little corner timer: “15…14…13.”

This relatively new way of consuming media also discourages community. Without the post-show seconds of silence, Netflix and Hulu (and even DVDs) leave no time for conversing. And is there any substitute for processing a work of art? The episode ends. You ask your neighbor or even just ask yourself, “Well?” and a conversation ensues. But this is unlikely because the next episode is right there…and you don’t even have to tell it to start playing. In that case, there’s likely to be no conversation about the characters or what’s happened (let alone speculation about what might happen next…you don’t have to wait to find out). So why would you want to watch with someone else?

Normal as this might seem, I think it’s pretty dangerous. This way of watching undermines community. While the cliffhanger teaches people to relate to shock and not to characters, the immediately available next episode teaches us not to relComputer classate to these characters with each other. When we cease sharing experiences with each other, we somehow even stop experiencing each other. We stop trying to keep track of where other people stand on things. We don’t look for other people’s insights — aren’t there always ones they’d have and we wouldn’t? — and, eventually, we don’t look for other people.

We don’t find it disturbing or even odd that I’d watch House of Cards while my good friend watches the same episode down the hall. If this weren’t real, it would be dystopic.

Lent is so many things. Among them, it’s a recollection of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert. In the desert I think we can find an antidote to our Netflixian negligence, both the binging and isolated viewing.

Most obviously Jesus’ fasting and our Lenten fasting should make us ask: What is really worth my effort? What is worth my time? We’re all pretty aware there are things more worth our time than House of Cards. Christ in the desert asks the sort of thing He asks at the sea, in the garden and by the tomb. “Whom are you looking for?” What are you really looking for?

Fasting asks, Have I exchanged God’s word for bread? Has my temporary satisfaction become more important to me than His eternal nourishment? And then, have I even gone so far as to exchange bread for stones? In the desert, the devil tempts Jesus to turn the stones in bread (Mt 4:3); but Jesus knows there’s something better out there. “Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread?” (Mt 7:9)

The devil wants Jesus to throw Himself off the temple parapet just to see if God will save HJesusTemptedintheDesertIconim. Isn’t this like the curiosity that gets us to watch just one more episode? Curiosity for the wrong reason, just to find out or from some morbid desire to see what terrible things could happen. Satisfaction may have brought back the cat. But curiosity made Adam eat of the tree and he’s been hungry ever since.

Jesus’ time in the desert can also teach us something about loneliness and isolation. If you’re like me, you might be sick of hearing people explain the distinction between loneliness and solitude. For all my being annoyed at the hackneyed explanation, it’s completely true. The Spirit leads Jesus into the desert (Mt 4:1) because, if we are to see clearly, we really must go apart for a while. We do need to be alone, but not simply so we can be by ourselves. The fact that the Spirit leads Jesus into the desert is telling. Jesus goes alone, but He is not by Himself. He goes to the desert to wrestle with His Sonship and to meet the Father. His isolation involves relationship.

This is why solitude is different from “introvert time” or therapeutic rejuvenation. Solitude separates us, not be isolated, but to encounter a living reality. Frankly, this is not the encounter toward which Netflix tends to lead us. As much as I’d like to think looking outward toward characters’ lives and hearing other people’s voices would lead people out of themselves, the way we watch television tends to do the opposite. We stop thinking about the characters. And we stop interacting with our neighbors.

The point is not to avoid technology altogether, but to try to understand what we’re doing. This should leave us chastened. With God’s help, it leaves us with a desire for real solitude.

The opportunity for solitude is elusive. And it’s always possible. But the next episode is playing in 15…14…13…

Practicing Lent: Living as the Beloved

Meredith Holland

Boston College School of Theology & Ministry

The Lenten season invites us to enter into a time of preparation through prayer and ascetic practices that can rid us of our sinful behaviors so that we become more open to God’s presence in our lives. We reform those aspects of our lives that take away from our true humanity so that we may enter into Holy Week, the Paschal Triduum, and Easter Sunday celebration—and the whole of the Christian life—as authentically human creatures, intended for and capable of praising God the Father. Lenten practices are not meant to temper our capacity for joy, but rather to increase it. Through the experience of emptiness and of darkness, we are more able to receive the fullness and light of God’s love. We remind ourselves of our hunger for God.

Yet, it is so easy to let the Lenten season simply pass by; it becomes merely a time to go through the motions of fasting and sacrifice, of prayer, of almsgiving, with a sense of detachment that precludes the authentic repentance and emptying that are not only necessary for the reorientation of our hearts and minds toward God, but also for making possible a participation in the genuine Christian joy that is Easter Sunday.

In his text Life of the Beloved, Henri J.M. Nouwen writes:

Still, I am thoroughly convinced that the origin and goal of our existence have everything to do with the ways we think, talk, and act in our daily lives. When our deepest truth is that we are the Beloved and when our greatest joy and peace come from fully claiming that truth, it follows that this has to become visible and tangible in the ways we eat and drink, talk and love, play and work. When the deepest currents of our live no longer have any influence on the waves at the surface, then our vitality will eventually ebb, and we will end up listless and bored even when we are busy. (40)

Lent is an opportunity to reform the ways we think, talk, and act in our daily lives such that that the deepest truths of our beings become more present in those ordinary actions. We abandon social media not to deprive ourselves of communication, but as a reminder that the vocation of the Christian calls all of one’s being to seek and praise God. We fast in order to remind ourselves of our bodily weakness, such that our physical hunger is a tangible sign of our spiritual hunger.

These practices are meant to be truly transformative, not merely temporary. They ought to make possible this visibility and tangibility of our deepest truth of which Nouwen writes.

I have always found the naming of Lenten practices appealing: it offers a tangibility and practicality to the spiritual life that is often difficult to identify and define. Lenten promises invite us to allow our spiritual lives to infuse the totalities of our lives, creating a space for prayer beyond the traditional pose or our standard practice. These offerings become another way for us to access God, at a time when we need this spiritual renewing most.

I have found recently that my traditional still pose of kneeling in silence, eyes closed, palms open, does not always bring a sense of peace and belovedness, but sometimes anxiety and restlessness. And, because that is the image we often have of prayer—quiet, solitude, serenity—this impatience can become a spiritual obstacle that breeds frustration and dissatisfaction, a sense of disappointment with one’s prayer. Often, it seems as though if we cannot find God in the stillness, we cannot find him at all. Lenten practices—the reorientation of the ordinary to reflect the deepest truths of our lives—remind us that this is not the case. When I do not feel at home in the stillness of a pious pose, I must learn to remind myself that we do not become the beloved only from our knees. We become the beloved in the living of our lives, too.

If we simply go through the motions of Lenten practices, not allowing them to penetrate our thoughts and actions, our preparation becomes merely a dulled anticipation. There is no emptying, no depth. We must remember that in seeking this depth, we will struggle, but we cannot assume that this struggle is an indication of a lack of faith. Pain and weakness are not the products of an uncertain faith, but rather offer witness to the conviction of the joy and love that will come. Lent is an opportunity to both satisfy and renew our hunger for God, continually reorienting the entirety of our lives to focus on God the Father who always recognizes us as his beloved.

Practicing Lent: The Formation of the Heart

Danielle PetersSr. Danielle M. Peters, S.T.D.

Secular Institute of the Schoenstatt, Sisters of Mary

Post-Doctoral Fellow, Institute for Church Life, University of Notre Dame

Alarmed by the “globalization of indifference” which also “presents a real temptation for us Christians,” Pope Francis entitled his Lenten Message 2015 with an imperative from the Letter of James: Make your hearts firm (5:8)! In this letter of a little less than 2000 words and signed already on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the Holy Father contrasts the love God has for each one of us with our all too often utilitarian, indifferent feelings. This is never more evident than in times “when we are healthy and comfortable;” then we easily can be unconcerned with the suffering of others and gradually “our heart grows cold.” The Pope’s Lenten reflection highlights indifference and egocentrism as the main characteristics of a cold heart which permeate our world to such a degree that “we can speak of a globalization of indifference.”

How can we protect our hearts from this contagion? The Holy Father proposes three biblical texts for our Lenten renewal. He begins with the First Letter to the Corinthians (12:26) and directs it to the church as the Body of Christ: If one member suffers, all suffer together. Being interwoven as members of Christ’s Body, indifference seems inconceivable. The truth of this interdependence we have all experienced in our own families, the smallest entity of the church’s communion. How quickly plans can be frustrated due to the sickness of a parent or sibling? On the other hand, family love and joy have a motivating impact on the individual’s heart formation. The same applies to the church; whatever we do and omit in some way affects the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ; we either contribute to their misfortune and/or increase their happiness! For our Lenten practice the Holy Father suggests that we first allow Christ to serve and feed us by washing our feet and by nourishing us at the Eucharistic Table. Then, touched by this unconditional love our hearts will eventually be conformed to Christ’s and like him we will be urged to share ourselves with others.

The second pericope of the Pope’s Lenten message is taken from Genesis 4:9 where God asks Cain “Where is your brother?”  The Holy Father directs this question mainly to parishes and communities where Christ’s spirit prevails. He is concerned that ecclesial structures do not prevent us from being Christ’s body “which acknowledges and cares for its weakest, poorest and most insignificant members.” There is a real danger that we appease our conscience by writing a check for the weekly offertory collection but fail “to see the Lazarus sitting before our closed doors (Lk 16:19-31).”  By making an effort to practice the corporeal works of mercy we show responsibility for our brother and sister whereby “our parishes and our communities may become islands of mercy in the midst of the sea of indifference.”  

With the third scriptural reference Pope Francis challenges each one of us personally: Make your hearts firm!” (James 5:8). The Holy Father admits that the flood of the media can paralyze us to the extent that “we often feel our complete inability to help.”  In order to escape “this Just like last year he wishes to commemorate the day of his election as pope, March 13, with the initiative “24 Hours for the Lord.” The pope requests that his anniversary will be celebrated “throughout the Church, also at the diocesan level” as a day of prayer and the opportunity to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. The US Catholic Bishops’ Conference has included the 24 Hours for the Lord Initiative in their Lenten calendar and several bishops have responded to it in their Lenten reflections.

Whether as church, parish or individuals, we all need to find “a way of overcoming indifference and our pretensions to self-sufficiency.” The Pope suggests using “this Lent as an opportunity for engaging in what Benedict XVI called a formation of the heart (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 31).” A formed heart, writes Pope Francis, is a “strong and steadfast heart, closed to the tempter but open to God.” Such a heart “lets itself be pierced by the Spirit” and in recognizing “its own poverty … gives itself freely for others.” The formation of the heart presupposes on the one hand receptivity towards the transforming work of grace and on the other hand-and perhaps before everything else-an encounter with God’s love. At stake is a personal experience of God, who knows me by my name, who loves me unconditionally, who searches for me even when I turn my back on him. This is the question we need to reckon with: Do I really believe this? Can I believe this when there are so many puzzles in my life? Can I surrender to God when my prayers or needs are not met in a way I had requested? Where is this loving God when I am treated unjustly or when my hopes are compromised?
RendYourHeartsPope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminds us that the formation of the heart aims at a purified heart which can confidently perceive God’s solicitude even behind  what seems incomprehensible in life. And he proposes that “it may just be the task of Marian piety to awaken the heart and purify it in faith” (  “Thoughts on the Place of Marian Doctrine,” Communio 30 (Spring 2003), 160). Many saints and spiritual writers have elected Mary as mother and guide in forming their hearts.  They confirm that divine initiative and human cooperation merge creatively insofar as we choose the Marian way, a way with and like Mary towards God. It is a way marked by the obedience of faith and fiat surrender. Saint John Paul II reminds us that “Mary’s motherhood… is a gift: a gift which Christ himself makes personally to every individual” (Redemptoris Mater, 45). Do we need such a gift? As with every gift, we are free to accept it. I have come to realize that the more I unwrap this gift, the more I am fascinated by the thought that this gift is most fitting for our fickle hearts. Jesus entrusts the gift of his mother to us because he knows and loves us more than we can fathom. He knows our innate need of a mother.

Indeed, Mary’s personal integrity, her receptivity for God and her motherly disposition are natural and supernatural points of relationship. Is it not the sensitivity of a mother that takes seriously the subjective needs of each of her children?  Her love is the key which unlocks hearts even when the religious organ seems to have died. Patiently she tends the wounds of lethargic hearts, helping them to recuperate from their various disappointments and losses.  She knows that unless the soil of the emotional and irrational life is lovingly nourished and tilted, spiritual and religious values cannot take root. Hers is a spiritual force which reaches beyond doctrine and commandments; laws and prohibitions; moral pressure or the mere avoidance of sin. At issue is a relationship where the uniting and assimilating effect of love can transform hearts unlike anything else.

The large stain glass window of Our Lady of Mercy Chapel in Geddes Hall at the University of Notre Dame depicts Mary’s children, young and old, seeking refuge under her wide spread mantle. Some look up to her with outstretched arms or folded hands; one covers his face; one is bent low due to his weighty backpack, perhaps indicative of a heavy burden life has placed upon his shoulders. Whether dressed scantily or wrapped in several layers; whether they kneel before her or are still at a distance in the two side panels, Mary’s eyes rest on them all. By her maternal charity, she offers her heart to us no matter how close or distant we are to her Son. As the “Mother of Fair Love” she longs to receive our hearts so as to teach them genuine love of God and neighbor.

Lent is a time to become more aware of what it means to be an authentic disciple of our Lord by hearing and practicing his word. Pope Francis’ Lenten Message challenges us to engage in a formation of our heart. Following in Christ’s footsteps of self-denial, service, and prayer our hearts will be purified and renewed for the victory of Easter. Let us invite Mary, to form our hearts unto Christ’s and to shelter us in her heart especially when we are tempted by indifference. In company with Mary let’s make March 13/14 a deep encounter with the loving and merciful Heart of Jesus!

Practicing Lent: Illness and the Frailty of the Human Condition

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

Several weeks ago, I received (as a dear gift from my undergraduates) a flu-like illness. The sickness started out as what seemed like a mere cold with the arrival of congestion in the middle of the night. Yet immediately after teaching an 8:00 AM class, my body began to rebel against my plan for a full day of work. Chills overtook me. Fever increased. I felt like someone had smacked each of my joints with a hammer. I traversed home, quarantining myself in the bedroom. For three days, as I let the illness unfold, I was cut off from seeing my toddler son and my wife (except for the briefest moments). My self-inflicted quarantine ended only after going to the doctor, where I received the news that my illness was not the flu but some other virus (which incidentally leaves open the possibility of getting the flu in the future).

Suffering through this rather marginal illness was an invitation to reflect upon the frailty of human nature in the early days of the season of Lent. An academic, fall and spring semesters are (in my own imagination) meant to function devoid of any interruption to my well-laid plans. Courses must be taught. Emails must be sent. Meetings must be had. Writing must be done.  Any interruption to my very rigid and important schedule must be avoided at all costs.

Yet, this virus was not particularly interested in assisting me with Virusstaying on schedule. The idol of routine was interrupted by the sickness, forcing me to recognize (once again) that despite my ambition to master human existence, I cannot do so. That I am not a disembodied will, capable of carrying out whatever I hope to achieve. Rather, as an embodied creature, existing in time and space, I am subject to atrophy. It is not just my schedule or routine that is falling apart. With the passing of each day, I move closer to the reality of my own final act of dying.

Modern life has (thankfully to a certain extent) isolated us from the fact of our own death. Most illness is generally treatable. Fever and joint pain can be lowered and alleviated through the taking of  Advil. Congestion can be cleared through cold medicine. We experience such illness as a momentary interruption to our schedule, rather than the shadow of death. Suffering can be eased.

Yet, there is something about such illness (even when marginal) that serves as a salutary sign of that final illness of which there will be no healing. That sickness in which pain and suffering will pass not through the instruments of medicine but only because we have taken our final breath. Sickness, in such moments, forces us to examine the purpose of our existence. Is my life full of meaning? Have I loved well? Have I conformed myself to the Eucharistic gift of love revealed in Christ? Have I given all away in love?

Of course, there is a further foretaste of death that often takes place in such illness. The communion with one another that we practice on a daily basis (conversation with co-workers, intimacy with family members) is at least momentarily snuffed out. After two days of being at home, my son finally realized that I was in fact in our house, hiding from him. He broke into my room of convalescence, seeking a hug. Denied this hug, he left the room, aware that for some reason I was avoiding physical contact with him. Indeed, is this cutting off of communion, of contact, not that which is most terrifying in sickness and death alike? As Joseph Ratzinger writes:

Sickness is described within the epithets that belong to death. It pushes man [and woman] into a realm of noncommunication, apparently destroying the relationships that make life what it is. For the sick person, the social fabric falls apart just as much as the inner structure of the body. The invalid is excluded from the circle of his [her] friends, and from the community of those who worship God. He [she] labors in the clutches of death, cut off from the land of the living. So sickness belongs in death’s sphere; or better, death is conceived as a sphere whose circumference is dereliction, isolation, loneliness, and thus abandonment to nothingness (Eschatology, 81).

Sickness and death are so terrifying, not simply because we are Aloneafraid to deal with physical suffering. Rather, sickness and death alike function as temptations to perceive in the world nothing but meaningless. To see all love as nothing but a fading light, the sunset of meaning itself.

In coming face-to-face with the frailty of the human condition in the midst of sickness, we are not like those who gaze into the darkness devoid of hope. Rather, the isolation that we experience while immersed in the totalizing worldview of sickness and death is an invitation to thrust ourselves upon the mercy of God, who binds every wound and heals the malaise of meaninglessness. As the celebration of Easter itself will demonstrate, we do not worship a God, who spurned sickness and death but offered himself in love. Jesus Christ, who did not let the meaninglessness of death win out but instead loved even into the creeping darkness of Good Friday and Holy Saturday alike.

Being sick in the midst of Lent is therefore, in some small way, a gift. It invites the believer to acknowledge the poverty of his or her own existence. And to thrust oneself, if we dare, upon the prodigal love of the God-person, Jesus Christ, who died and rose from the dead. Whose conquering of sickness and death did not erase illness from the human condition. But, through the resurrected light of the cross, has made it possible for all illness to be understood anew in light of the resurrection.