Tag Archives: love

What Can I Give?

Grace

Grace Mariette Agolia

Undergraduate Fellow

Contact Author

During these liturgical feasts of Christmas, the Holy Family, and Epiphany, we celebrate the giving and receiving of gifts.  There are the physical gifts around our Christmas trees that we give to each other; there are the spiritual gifts of presence and prayer that we share; and most of all, there is the gift of God in human flesh for the salvation of us all.
God gives himself to us!  That is an incredible, extraordinary, marvelous, and life-changing gift which we receive if we allow our hearts to be open to his coming, but it is also a gift which begs the perennial human question in response to this action of divine mercy,
“What can I possibly give to God in return?”
So often I feel like the old shepherd in the film The Nativity Story who feels that he has no gift to bring to God and to others.  He says this to Mary and Joseph, who are warming themselves by the fire he had offered to them on their way to Bethlehem because they seemed cold.  While they are sitting by the fire, Mary says to the shepherd, “I will tell our child about you.  About your kindness.”  The shepherd replies, “My father told me a long time ago that we are all given something.  A gift.  Your gift is what you carry inside.”  Mary then asks him, “What was your gift?”  The shepherd says, “Nothing.  Nothing but the hope of waiting for one.”
I would say that many of us feel similarly.  Growing up, we are frequently asked by others questions like these:  “Who do you want to be when you grow up?”  “How do you want to use your gifts?”  “What will you do to make a difference in this world?”
Sometimes we have an idea of what we would like to do with our lives, so we say what that might be.  But that vision often changes with our circumstances, and by the time our student lives are over, and we are working to make a living, sometimes we wonder, “How did I get here?”  “What I have missed?”  “Where am I really going?”  “This is not what I had planned.”  “Am I really making a difference in this big world?”  We can feel small and poor because the world can be a lonely and confusing place.  The gifts that we thought we had don’t seem to be massively impacting the world, we don’t feel fulfilled in giving of ourselves to our daily labors, we’re working in ways that don’t make use of our gifts because we’re struggling just to scrape by, or we’re still searching for our gifts.
I remember during one year in high school when I was on a retreat, my small group leader asked the members of our group to make a list of ten gifts that we have.  I thought about it and wrote down two or three, which seemed inconsequential to me and not of much use.  Then tears started to form in my eyes because I couldn’t think of any more gifts to write down.  I felt so small and poor in comparison to others around me.  I could only hope that I was wrong and wait for someone to tell me how immeasurably blessed I am and what a difference I can make in this world.  I didn’t know it then, but I had to understand first what “gift” really is and what “making a difference” means.
When someone does tell us about a gift that we have, which we did not initially recognize in ourselves, it is great news to us – just like when the angel appears to the old shepherd and announces to him the great gift of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.  When we receive news of such a gift, we are taken aback, an awareness is awakened in us, and we go to seek out what this great gift is and how we might share it.  When we find it and touch it, we are surprised by joy, and we express thanksgiving by sharing it with others.
And so, in The Nativity Story, the old shepherd travels to the stable in Bethlehem to see what this gift is that he almost despaired of waiting for in thinking that he had nothing to give.  When he approaches Mary cradling the infant Jesus, he kneels down and looks at the newborn Jesus with amazement.  He then slowly reaches out to touch Jesus, but he cannot bring himself to do so.  He seems too good to be true.  And why would he want to give himself to me, a poor, lowly shepherd with no gifts to give in return.
As Christina Rossetti writes in her poem, “In the Bleak Midwinter,”
“What can I give Him, poor as I am?”
magigiftsThere are people who can give their property as shelter – a stable for animals that the Holy Family uses – and there are those like the magi who can give gold, frankincense, and myrrh out of their wealth.  But what can poor, lowly shepherds give?  They don’t seem to have anything of real value to give to such an extraordinary person – God made flesh in love for us.  The old shepherd withdraws his trembling hand, but he continues to gaze in wonder at this newborn child, this indescribable gift.
Mary, however, turns to the old shepherd and holds Jesus toward him, saying,
“He is for all mankind.”
Encouraged by these words, the shepherd then slowly reaches out his hand again to touch the infant Jesus.  TouchWhen he finally touches Jesus, the shepherd is overcome with emotion and closes his eyes.   Mary then says to the shepherd,
“We are each given a gift.”
The old shepherd’s eyes widen with realization.  It’s as if Mary is saying to him, “Touch him.  He is your gift.  He is what you carry inside.  Touch him, open your heart, and he is yours!”  This infant Jesus is a gift for all human beings, including the old shepherd himself.  We are each given the profound gift of love, God in the flesh, become one of us and who shares in our suffering and in our joy.  That is the gift that we carry in our hearts – love himself.
Thus, this Christmas event radically transforms our understanding of “gift” and of “making a difference.”  Our epiphany is this:  His striking manifestation to us as true God in true human flesh reveals to us that our sinful humanity is not worthless.  He loves us!  He has mercy on us!  He is one of us!  This gift of Jesus leads us to recognize how we might share that gift of love with others.  The old shepherd, even when he thought he had nothing to give, had the gift of love:  he gave to the Holy Family kindness, warmth, comfort, and friendship, even though he was just a stranger on the road.  Even though he may have felt cold and empty, he still carried the little flame of hope inside.  The gift of Jesus helped him to recognize the value and purpose of his own life.  Life is not just about survival.  It is so much more than that.  Love makes the difference.  Talents that we have may be gifts, but they will remain just abilities if not given to others in love.  As St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:1-7,
“If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated,
it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
They are gifts because they are not our own; they are meant to be shared.  They are gifts precisely because they involve a gift of the self in love to the other.  Gift is an embodied act, and it is the way in which we are to see the world.
We are each given a gift.  What gift do I carry inside?  Do I know what gift I can give to the Christ child in my heart?   What can I give?  As Christina Rossetti writes in the last stanza of her poem,
“Yet what I can I give Him:  give my heart.”
givehearttogodWe can’t really give anything to God, except what has been first given to us.  When we give gifts, it is because something or someone makes a claim on us, and we want to express our gratitude.  It can never really be an exchange.  In the case of God, moreover, God makes His claim on us; we cannot make a claim on God.  No gift of our own will ever really be adequate to express our thanksgiving.  We can only offer back the gift he has given us first:  His love.  Our love is formed and perfected in His love, and it is that we are to give.  Jesus is the gift that we receive, and at the same time, he is the gift that we give in our worship because he is the true gift, the perfect gift, the gift of love.  He is the only one who leads us to the Father, and the way we meet the Father is through love.  Jesus is this love.  In our hearts, if only we prepare Him room, dwells Love incarnate.  The gift that we can give Him is our hearts filled with love , as we give of ourselves for each other.
worksofmercyHow can we do that?  Through the practice of mercy, which is what God demonstrates for us as the face of mercy in Jesus.  We can do corporal and spiritual works of mercy for each other, and in doing so, we give our hearts to God.  Likewise at Mass, we “lift up our hearts” to God in prayer.  We can proclaim the praises of the Lord, as Mary does in her Magnificat, humbly lifting up her heart to God and magnifying His name.  That is how we can make a difference in the world.  It starts person to person.  Mercy must be practiced constantly for love to bear fruit.  In Jesus, our poverty is made rich because he is the gift of love, and he invites us to become sharers in that gift of love.  Our life reveals its meaning in gift.  Let us lift up our hearts to embrace that love and to share it with all we may encounter.  Let us approach the newborn Jesus each day, gaze upon him in wonder in each person we meet, touch his face, and realize this gift of love that animates our lives.  Let us walk rejoicing and share this gift with gratitude.

On Advent & Exasperated Elephants

MLewisMadeline Lewis ’17

Theology and English

Undergraduate Fellow, Center for Liturgy

 

My secret spot for necessary moments of reprieve from the hustle and bustle of college life is the children’s book section of the Notre Dame bookstore. The children’s book section features wonders aplenty: the sight of tiny humans sitting at tiny tables reading tiny books, the occasional grandparent or parent reading lovingly to a little one in their lap, and bright-colored book covers that look infinitely more enjoyable than most of the things I am forced to read for class. Usually, I browse the storybooks until I have sufficiently escaped into a world where the biggest challenges are counting the number of baby animals on the farm or helping the lost princess find her way back to the castle.

But this didn’t happen last time. What happened was that my casual browsing was interrupted by my beholding of a far-too-accurate cartoon depiction of my impatient soul: the exasperated Elephant of Mo Willem’s book, Waiting Is Not Easy.UntitledAllow me to give you a brief summary of Elephant’s simple story. Things start out grandly for our protagonist: he learns that his dearest friend, Piggie, has a surprise for him. A surprise which, as he learns to his dismay, must be awaited. He receives only a simple promise: “It will be worth it.” But of course, this does not pacify our protagonist. For Elephant, this process of waiting is filled with impatience, anger, and doubt.

“I do not think your surprise is worth all this waiting!”

“I will not wait anymore!”

“We have waited too long!”

“It is getting dark! It is getting darker! Soon we will not be able to see anything!”

“We have wasted the whole day.”

Now, as I reached the page containing Elephant’s massive groan, my soul did a massive groan of its own. When I read Elephant’s words of impatience, anger, and doubt, I knew I was reading reactions so very familiar to my own heart. Waiting is hard. And it is something that I don’t know how to do very well at all: not in my relationships, in my spiritual life, or in the unfolding of my vocation.

In his book Waiting for God, Henri Nouwen writes of the holy and waiting people of Luke’s Gospel. As he points out, all of the figures who appear in the first pages are waiting: Elizabeth, Zechariah, Mary, Simeon, Anna. Like Elephant, they learn the surprising news of a great gift, which is immediately followed by the news that this gift must be awaited. And they are promised that this will be good.

“The whole opening of the Good News is filled with waiting people. And right at the beginning all those people in someway or another hear the words, “Do not be afraid. I have something good to say to you. Waiting, as we see it in the people on the first pages of the Gospel, is waiting with a sense of promise. People who wait have received a promise that allows them to wait.”

Waiting is not easy. During Advent, we ponder in our hearts what it would mean for us to practice holy and joyful waiting, the very waiting that is the space where the Good News breaks open. As we wait for Christ, we learn to wait in a way that dwells in the promise of His love for us: waiting that dwells in love and hope instead of fear and doubt. As the days get shorter and shorter, we are reminded of how it is often precisely when we feel that it has been getting darker and darker (“Soon we will not be able to see anything!”) that the light of Christ shines clearest and most brightly. It is the patient heart that is able to encounter the infant Jesus hidden under a starry sky in a lowly manger.

May this Advent teach our hearts the worthiness of waiting.

Follow Madeline on Twitter @madlew4

Come to the Yeast

MLewisMadeline Lewis ’17

Theology and English

Undergraduate Fellow, Center for Liturgy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Madeline on Twitter @madlew4

Families Are Pumpkiny

MLewisMadeline Lewis ’17

Theology and English

Undergraduate Fellow, Center for Liturgy

Recently, my family and I attempted to go to the pumpkin patch together. Because, you know, it’s autumn, and picking out pumpkins is a nice family ritual. I’d like to be able to report that we all bundled up in perfectly unplanned matching plaid flannels, took family pictures where everyone looked photogenic and no one blinked, and then sipped apple cider and talked about how much we love each other. And I’m sure this is what would have happened, had it not been for the unfortunate minor detail that we actually never made it to the pumpkin patch in the first place. Because actually, despite my mother’s loving and adamant efforts to corral us all into a Perfect Family Memory, we never made it further than a couple of minutes away from campus.

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Here’s what actually happened: after coming to terms with the difficulty of making my college schedule and that of my two high school brothers fit harmoniously, we settled for a Saturday morning excursion to the South Bend Farmer’s Market rather than a further-away bona fide pumpkin patch. But the funny thing is, we never actually made it to the Farmer’s Market, either. What we actually did was far more mundane: we ended up waiting for an hour for my brother to finish taking the SAT, listening to my younger brother rant about how icky he thinks girls are, and slowly watching the clock tick tirelessly into what would have been our pumpkin picking time. When my family dropped me off back at campus, I felt woefully pumpkin-less, and more than a little miffed at the “waste” of what could have been an otherwise productive morning.

Though I admit I was a tad miffed, I certainly wasn’t surprised. How often it is, in families, that things don’t go as planned. Being part of a family means that we find ourselves bound to others: we are messy, others are messy, and the result is, unsurprisingly, messy. We plan for a nice dinner out and then hungriness turns to grumpiness. We plan to be out the door by a certain time and then forgetfulness turns to tardiness. We plan to keep the house clean all week and cleanliness turns to dirtiness. I was miffed, but not surprised, that we seemed to miss the mark that Saturday morning.

When I was little, I used to watch wide-eyed as my dad scooped out the insides of our pumpkins in order to ready them for carving. I would watch as he lovingly spooned out the stringy, gooey, sloppy seed bits in order to help the glow of the candlelight shine clearly through. I always stared with wonder at the clumpy pile that would build up as the pumpkins were emptied out. It seems to me that families can be, at times, quite pumpkiny. There is gooeyness and stringiness to our family relationships, all sort of sloppy seed bits that we find in heaping spoonfuls. And yet, it is precisely in the sheer wondrous existence of the family that we find ourselves emptied out lovingly by the Father, and spooned out ourselves in the long process of becoming less clumpy and more able to glow.

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I was thinking about the particularly pumpkiny clumpiness of family when a friend shared with me a delightful excerpt from G.K. Chesterton’s Blatchford Controversies. In this excerpt, Chesterton talks of the miracle that pumpkins remain in existence as pumpkins. While we may wish for our pumpkins to be magically transformed into fairytale coaches, Chesterton reminds us that it is no less magical that they should remain their pumpkin selves: after all, they are held into existence wondrously by the Father who loves all things into existence:

“Christianity holds that the world and its repetition came by will or Love as children are begotten by a father, and therefore that other and different things might come by it. Briefly, it believes that a God who could do anything so extraordinary as making pumpkins go on being pumpkins. (…) If you do not think it extraordinary that a pumpkin is always a pumpkin, think again. You have not yet even begun philosophy. You have not even seen a pumpkin.”

Perhaps, in Chesterton’s words, we may not only learn to see pumpkins clearly, but also the great wonder that is the family, for in these words we are reminded of a God who does extraordinary things, and who holds all things into existence lovingly. This is a God who dwells with us as we learn to dwell with each other: and it doesn’t matter if we are a little bit messy, a tad bit pumpkiny. Seeing the family with this sort of vision means that it doesn’t matter that we didn’t make it to the pumpkin patch that Saturday morning. What matters is the way it is simply magical to be called to love humans that we haven’t handpicked ourselves: the way that God has designed our existence to be fundamentally in relation to others, the exact particularly pumpkiny others that He has chosen to play a role in both our glowing and clumpy moments. In the end, to measure the wonder of the family by a fairytale picture of perfection would be to miss the miracle: simply that we exist together, held together and related to each other by the love of the Father.

Follow Madeline on Twitter @madlew4

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

MLewisMadeline Lewis ’17

Theology and English

Undergraduate Fellow, Center for Liturgy

 

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

-Psalm 132

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

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

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

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

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

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Reflection From Prayer Service for Sexual Assault Victims

Rose Walsh ’16

Resident Assistant, Lyons Hall

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance. In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.

We know that all things work for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified.                   (Romans 8:18-30)

Does that happen here?  Does that happen here?

When I walked into one of my freshmen quads the other night, that was the first question they asked me.  “Hey Rose — those sexual assault emails were pretty scary — does that happen here?”  As a new RA in Lyons hall, a few things went through my mind – first, I was horribly embarrassed that during their first week of class here at Notre Dame, they had already received three notifications that this new home we’re trying to bring them into and create still has a serious problem keeping students safe.  And as much as I wished I could sincerely answer that no, Notre Dame students are above this crime, I knew that the emails were a critical reminder to us all that we are not past our own history of sexual violence.  More importantly, these emails came as a sign of incredible bravery and progress toward a community where any sexual assault is reported and taken seriously.

I thought of the girls’ parents whom I’d met last week, ensuring them I’d help them loft, find classes, and make sure they got home safe at night.  They had come from all over the country and the globe to bring their children, their most sacred gifts, here to South Bend, Indiana, at a school where nothing goes wrong, and there are single sex dorms and parietals and rules and police and RA’s and so many nice brochures; yet without fail, every couple of weeks we still get that email with the subject line, Crime Alert: Sexual Assault and that same body text that starts “Sexual assault can happen to anyone.” And my last thought, looking at the girls in the room I asked myself, are they afraid to be here? Are they afraid of the men’s dorms and the environment and the upperclassmen because this kind of crime regularly happens on campus? Have we tolerated or even created an environment that causes our newest students, our youngest brothers and sisters to be afraid of Saturday nights?  And it broke my heart to think that these new students, my newest residents could be afraid of a place that I love so much — I love the dorms and the people and faculty and beautiful spirit that is Notre Dame.  I know that we are all blessed to be here and Notre Dame has blessed me with the most beautiful friendships and relationships that I’ve ever had, — but why is it that we, as students in this beautiful place continue to fail each other in this grievous, repulsive way?

I am proud to be gathered here with you today because it demonstrates our will as a student body to end this history of sexual assault on campus and beyond, however, while prayer and reflection and awareness are so important, absolutely nothing will guarantee the future safety of the students of Our Lady’s university besides a sincere and relentless effort by each and every student and classmate and roommate to step in, speak up and respect one another.  As we reflect upon the words from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, we grow in faith and hope with the knowledge that “in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us” and that through the united strength of our student body, these crimes against our friends will become a thing of the past.   And I am confident that one day we will all be ready to answer that question — does that happen here?  Does sexual assault happen at Notre Dame? One day we will answer confidently It absolutely does not.  Because if God is for us, who, then, can be against us?

Augustine and the “Sacrament” of Teaching

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet, Augustine continues:

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

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

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

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

 

The Eucharist: Food for Us Wild Things

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Joseph, Husband of Mary: Model of Fidelity

Tim KenneyTimothy J. Kenney
’14 MTS Candidate 

Boston College School of Theology and Ministry

What do you get when a high school theology teacher marries theology grad student?

What?

A ton of religious art.

Get it? If not, a quick look around my apartment would show you that this isn’t just a bad joke, it’s the reality of what your friends think to buy when you major in theology. Outside of the dishware and bed sets that you register for at the domestic wonderland that is Bed, Bath and Beyond, unwrapping wedding presents can be a fun indicator of what your guests really think of you (I’m pretty rotten at giving original gifts and as such truly appreciate someone who possesses the skill). My wife Rylee and I soon discovered just how lucky we were in the company we keep. The general theme of gifts seemed to be religious art and wine and, lest our apartment resemble a bachelor pad, Rylee has insisted our décor emphasize the former rather than the latter. As such the holy statues, icons, nativity sets, and crosses that our friends and family sent our way have filled our little apartment with an intentionally Catholic décor, provided us with the opportunity to grow spiritually as we settle in domestically, and has made what were at first blank white walls radiate the comfort of home and Christ.

Throughout this time one image has begun to stand out above the rest. A particularly common theme, very appropriate as a wedding present for a young married couple, were images depicting the Holy Family. I have long had a love for Our Lady and Talladega Nights taught me the theological magnitude of the Baby Jesus. But as I’ve sat reading or writing on our couch, something else, or rather someone else, has increasingly drawn my attention from the icon hung on our wall. A figure generally relegated to the background has increasingly pressed forward and become the focal point of the image in my mind. More and more I have found myself drifting off in thought, eyes transfixed on the tall bearded figure of St. Joseph, lovingly embracing his wife and adopted son.

I can’t really claim to be unacquainted with St. Joseph. Having attended St. Joseph Grade School and St. Joseph High School, both of which are located in St. Joseph County and situated on the St. Joseph River, its safe to say I’ve heard of him once or twice. Even one of my favorite saints (evidence of 9 years of Holy Cross education), St. André Bessette, C.S.C.,  was known for his remarkable devotion to St. Joseph. And yet despite my best efforts and the cards being stacked completely in his favor, I’ve never really been able to connect with the world’s most famous carpenter.

This all began to change following our relocation to Massachusetts this August. The day after we were married, Rylee and I loaded everything we owned into a U-Haul truck. Romantic, I know. Then the next morning at 5 AM we rolled out of South Bend and headed for Boston. Before we had been married a month we had moved 1,000 miles across the country, settled in a new apartment, Rylee had started a new job, and I was knee deep in Karl Rahner, at work on my master’s degree. Talk about a whirlwind.

To say the process was at times disorienting would be a dramatic understatement. Trying to find any semblance of stability seemed impossible because everything about our new life together had to be handled in the short term, as temporary. Rylee and I were living in Boston, for now. I was working toward my MTS, for now. We were just starting out as a family of two, for now. But in what felt like less than a week the conversations among friends shifted from why we came to BC to where we wanted to do PhDs. I was just beginning the marathon that is grad school and had no real answer to the question, “What are you doing after this?” We had no idea where we would be in two years, let alone what I’d be doing at that point. But whatever the future held, it seemed impossible to see the MTS as anything but transitory, a waiting room for the real world that lay beyond.

On top of all this was the reality that I wasn’t just a student and this wasn’t just a continuation of my 4 years of college. I was a family man now and had as much of a responsibility to another person as I did to myself. This was one of the hardest places for me to find firm ground precisely because we were trying to figure out just what it meant to be a family when there are only two of us. I had so many wonderful examples in my life of what it meant to be a great father, but what I had failed to prepare for was how to be a great husband.

And so I sat, eyes locked on the image of Joseph. I didn’t seek him out, I didn’t know why my prayers turned to him. All I knew was that one night long after my wife went to bed exhausted from a day of teaching high schoolers, I sat up willing myself to read, increasingly aware that not only did academic success determine my livelihood, but also that of my family. My attention drifted upward, past the pages of the book in my hands to the far wall, and came to rest on Joseph, holding his wife with a strong, stable, and determined love that I knew was never overcome and never defeated by any adversity that came his way.

I finished my reading and went to bed. After I turned out my light, a lone image stood silhouetted against the white walls of our bedroom. Another image of the Holy Family, this one a beautiful wood carving, it sits atop our dresser and is the last thing I see every night before I shut my eyes. Carved from a single piece of wood, Joseph isn’t just the background; he is the canvas on which his family is grounded. Mary is carved from his side and the two are united as one. I paused for a moment as I looked at the statue, turned and put my arms around my wife. She is my stability. “This one at last is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23). Together with her, I will build my family. My vows to her, made before God, are the commitment of a lifetime and the focal point of my life’s work.

Today is the feast of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary. He was such an extraordinary husband that the Church proclaimed an annual feast to celebrate it. We don’t just remember him because he married an immaculate woman. We remember him because he lived out his vocation so completely that it brought him to God. He does not just blend in as the third person of the Holy Family. He shines out to husbands everywhere, holding up the example of how to fully commit oneself to the vocation and sacrament that is marriage.

In a time when nothing about where I am, what I am doing, or where my life is headed seems certain or stable, Joseph reminds me to look at the walls of this apartment, and most especially to the woman who made them a home, and remember that this is my vocation. Despite the fluidity the next few years may contain in terms of location and occupation, regardless of whether our family expands in 1 year or in 10, my commitment and my role is modeled for me perfectly in the life of St. Joseph.

St. Joseph, pray for us.

“It Is Good That You Exist”

Hope Bethany ’15

Theology Undergraduate

Fellow, Center for Liturgy

About a week and a half ago, I journeyed to the March for Life in Washington, D.C. with nearly 700 fellow students from the Notre Dame, St. Mary’s, and Holy Cross community. I tried on the way there to write a “Why We March” piece. And then I tried on the way back to turn the bits and pieces of thoughts into a “Why We Marched” reflection. This may come as a shocker, but bumpy, overnight, cross-country bus rides are not the most conducive writing environments.

March_for_Life_2015_Addie_CNABus rides may not be good for writing, but they are good for pondering, and I pondered one thought all along the way. The thought was  the quote: “It is good that you exist,” and it tied my whole March for Life 2015 experience together from beginning to end. I remembered reading a line of Pope Benedict XVI’s talking about how it is important for people to know: “It is good that you exist.” (To give fair credit where it’s due, the quote was probably in my mind because of this recent post from Elizabeth Scalia over at the Patheos blog network.) I wondered about using the quote as a sort of posture in which to march and to carry the spirit of the March forward into the rest of the year—expressing that to be pro-life is to say: “It is good that you exist” to all of humanity, from conception to natural death.

This “It is good that you exist” reflection comes from Pope Benedict XVI’s 2011 Christmas address to the Roman Curia. During the address, Pope Benedict reflected on the joy that he had experienced at World Youth Day. The full quote is a gift, and so you’ll find it here:

“Where does it [joy] come from? How is it to be explained? Certainly, there are many factors at work here. But in my view, the crucial one is this certainty, based on faith: I am wanted; I have a task in history; I am accepted, I am loved. Josef Pieper, in his book on love, has shown that man can only accept himself if he is accepted by another. He needs the other’s presence, saying to him, with more than words: it is good that you exist. Only from the You can the I come into itself. Only if it is accepted, can it accept itself. Those who are unloved cannot even love themselves. This sense of being accepted comes in the first instance from other human beings. But all human acceptance is fragile. Ultimately we need a sense of being accepted unconditionally. Only if God accepts me, and I become convinced of this, do I know definitively: it is good that I exist. It is good to be a human being.”

In fact, that idea of peoples’ necessity to know, “It is good that you exist” must have been a theme for Pope Benedict XVI, because years earlier, (as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) he had written,

“If an individual is to accept himself, someone must say to him: “It is good that you exist” – must say it, not with words, but with that act of the entire being that we call love” (Principles of Catholic Theology, 74).

Every-Life-is-a-Gift-2The ‘theme’ this year for the March was “Every Life is a Gift.” But I think that we can only say and mean, “Every Life is a Gift” if we affirm to the most vulnerable in our world the goodness of existence.

cute-down-syndrome-baby-boy-pictures-6-640x426So to be pro-life in this line of thought means to say, by act, in prayer, by attention, with tenderness, with “the act of the entire being that we call love” the following: It is wonderfully good that you exist, young mothers, isolated and scared of facing the realities of an unintended pregnancy. It is so, so good that you exist, beautiful little ones with Downs Syndrome. It is very good that you exist, men who have no idea how or if you’re going to be a father. We are so grateful that you exist, grandmothers and grandfathers who are tired, and sick, and aren’t sure how much time you have. You are loved for who you are, not what you can do or will do or will never do. You are loved because you exist.*

gileadThere are some other beautiful examples of how this kind of love can come about. One of my favorite examples comes from Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead. In it, John Ames writes to his young son, saying: “But it’s your existence I love you for, mainly. Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined.”

That image of John Ames loving his young son simply for his existence in a way that aligns with the thought of Pope Benedict XVI is just about the most pro-life posture I can imagine, if we have the courage to extend it to those we encounter. What if we loved each person in our world in the same way? Each woman, man, and child on this earth—especially those whom, by all appearances, the world is willing to throw away—needs to know they are dearly loved and supported and treasured. They are loved by God and also by us, even if they never felt that or knew that until now. They need to know it with more than just words; they need to know with tangible support and time and love. We need to reach out, to tell them: “It is good that you exist.”

We know that we can only love, as 1 John 4 says, because “[God] first loved us.” In and through the mystery of faith, we are invited to love people with God’s love so that they may know that God loves them. Our human love may only be a shadow and a tiny foretaste of our heavenly Father’s tendetour12r love for His children, but we need each other in order to know that it is good that we exist. We need each other, so that ultimately we may all turn together in adoration, with our whole hearts and lives to the ultimate love, who poured Himself out for us on the Cross.

This is why the posture of “It is good that you exist” can help extend the witness of the March. It means taking the experience of the solidarity of the hundreds of thousands of people on the March for Life, joyously shouting the slogans like, “We love babies!” and “Pro-Woman, Pro-Life!” and turning that passion and joy into a tangible part of the daily Christian life. The Notre Dame Right to Life Club already does this in very admirable ways, by supporting the pregnancy resource center near campus, organizing visits to nursing homes and having game nights with the elderly, and working with the Hannah Project, spending time with children and adults with a variety of disabilities. All of these pro-life activities state by their collective actions, by their decisions and their time, and by their attention to the individual that it is good that people exist.

This is idealistic, I know, and one post cannot engage all of the arguments and intricacies surrounding those who have suffered because of abortion or other hurts and sins against human dignity all over the world. But I hope that this post can serve as encouragement, as a suggestion for a way of “moving on” from the March for Life. This way proclaims by word, by deed, by attention to the most vulnerable a very simple message: you are loved for your very existence. That is good that we exist. It is good that you, beloved child of God, exist, and it always will be.

 

*(We could go on to refer to immigrants and refugees, the homeless, the mentally ill . . . obviously, the pro-life movement doesn’t get the monopoly on calling existence “good”: God beat us all to it in the first days of creation. See Gn 1.)