Tag Archives: Marriage

A Letter to My Wife at Ten Years of Marriage

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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As of today around 1:30 PM or so, we have been married for ten years. Speaking to a group of students last night, I noted that you have endured nearly a third of your life spent with me. For this, I am grateful.

While ten years is no more remarkable of an anniversary than eleven  (and certainly a less remarkable one than thirty-one), it nonetheless is a time to think more deeply about the gift of our marriage. Like most couples (even if we thought we were different), the earliest stages of our married lives were an education into nuptial love. The first years of marriage, we loved one another as those in their early 20s tend to love. It pained me to be away from you for even a night. We had in each other a companion to go out to bars in Boston, someone to travel with to Alaska. Yet, in these earliest days of our marriage, your love began to form me in patience, in compassion, in a mature form of Christian caritas.

We began to grow out of the heady days of young, married love when we were unable to have a child. Since both of us are not the kind to reveal our wounds to one another with ease, we silently cared for each other in the midst of the first real suffering that we endured as a married couple. You invited me out of the self-pity that I had embraced, laying the groundwork for us to adopt our son and to consider a vocation to foster parent. You loved me into the possibility of new love. You made me think anew the vow of hospitality that we promised to the world on our wedding day, to let even our sufferings become an occasion of gift.


And now as the mother to a toddler in perpetual motion (adopted on the feast of the Holy Family in 2012), you have continued to form me in the kind of self-giving love that we pledged to one another on December 3rd, 2005. My impatience with our son when he whines and whines and whines stands in stark contrast to your tender response. Your care of him when he is sick has formed me to enter without delay in the messiness of the human condition (including vomit, fevers, and coughs given directly into my mouth). Learning from you how to parent has transformed me into a more patient teacher, co-worker, and I hope husband.

Through all of this, I have come to wonder what love means now, what it would be like to once again to declare before God, the Church, and the gathered assembly my intention to “take you, Kara, as my wife.” What it means to promise to “be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.” To love and honor you all the days of my life. At the time, this promise seemed so easy, a natural outgrowth of our dating and then engaged relationship. Loving you meant talking through the night; hanging out with friends; dreaming about our future. Loving and honoring you now has become something different. It is changing a diaper filled with noxious fumes just as I am about to leave for work (and could have kept it as a special gift for you). It is remembering to offer a kiss when I leave for work and arrive home. It is removing the snow from our driveway so that you don’t have to. It is the virtue of nuptial love, a habit of care, concern, and gratitude that has infused my being.

Of course, our love will continue to deepen in this way (if we seek ways to cultivate it). The suffering that we endured in not being able to have a child will not be our only occasion of pain in this life. There is the suffering of sickness and death of our fathers, our mothers, our remaining grandparents. There are the pains that will come as we watch our son (and, God-willing, future children) grow up, experiencing the difficulties of the world. There are both joys and sorrows unimaginable that we will experience together. And, eventually, one of us will most likely endure the death of one another, learning nonetheless to live the gift of our love anew for the redemption of the world. Our education into this love will continue.

And for this reason, I’m especially grateful that the heart of our relationship is our weekly reception of our Lord Jesus Christ on the table of the Word and the altar of Eucharistic sacrifice. We’re not remarkably strong people. We have no special formula to pass on to others seeking to have a marriage that lasts beyond a year or two. Rather, our marriage is informed by the gift of love that we must receive (even if we’re not interested in receiving it) so that we can become for one another and the world God’s healing presence.

I have become increasingly sure that my salvation is unfolding through this seemingly mundane, ten-year experiment that we have been carrying out. Although I’m often critical on the marriage preparation that we received, I’m not sure that anything could have prepared us to adequately live out the mystery of divine love that we now abide in.

Thus, on this ten year anniversary, I promise to love you anew in light of this nuptial and Eucharistic love that is our fundamental identity as those wedded in Christ Jesus. I  promise to be the kind of husband and father, who loves unto the end. And I promise, most of all, to receive together with you God’s own love through prayer, through works of mercy, and through Eucharistic communion all the days of their lives. Only then will it be possible to continue becoming icons of God’s own love for each other, for our children, for our families, and for the world.

Thank you for letting me become this kind of love with you over the last ten years.


The Local Renewal of Family Life: Marriage Formation

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Renewal of Marriage Formation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proclaiming the Kerygma

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

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

O God, who consecrated the bond of Marriage

by so great a mystery

that in the wedding covenant you foreshadow

the Sacrament of Christ and the Church,

grant, we pray, to these your servants,

that what they receive in faith

they may live out in deeds.

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

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

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

The Mission of Family Life

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

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

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

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

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


Combating Soulmates: A Yearly Renewal of Vows

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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A powerful moment at the diocesan Chrism Mass is the renewal of priestly promises. On a yearly basis, those in attendance (if the diocese cares enough to truly make it a diocesan event rather than a chance to pick up the annual supply of oil) have an occasion to reflect upon the gift of the priesthood. And priests, likewise, are invited again to consider their own service to the People of God, rededicating themselves anew to the Eucharistic sacrifice that is at the heart of their priestly identity. While priests can do this everyday through their practice of ministry at the altar and in the parish, the public nature of the renewal becomes a source of witness to the whole Church.

Among those who are married, there are not the same public occasions for renewing one’s commitment. Many dioceses seem to offer such opportunities for couples celebrating twenty-five or fifty years of married life. But as one member of a couple entering my tenth year of marriage, I have come to see the wisdom of having a more frequent renewal of one’s wedding vows not simply for the couple but the entire Church.

When first vowing myself to “love you and honor you all the days of my life,” I didn’t have a sense of what this love and honor would consist of. I imagined that such love and honoring would be easy precisely because on that day I “loved” Kara so much. But over the years, this vow has become for me a kind of examination of conscience. To love and honor my wife is to be at home in time so that I can take care of our son while dinner is being finished. It is to ungrudgingly bathe my son in the evenings so that Kara can have a few hours without a toddler yelling at her every fifteen seconds. It is to plan evenings out where Kara and I can once again delight in being in each other’s presence as adult human beings capable of consuming a meal without food being thrown across the room. I don’t always adequately perform these offerings of love. I am not always grateful for the presence of Kara in my life. And I need at least a yearly encounter with these vows to remind myself of the depths of love that I have promised to Kara, to renew the gratitude that is at the heart of our married lives.

But, it’s not just the individual couple that needs this yearly reminder. Rather, marriage within Catholicism is experiencing a rapid decline. In 1965, with 48.5 million Catholics in the United States, there were 352,458 marriages. In 2014, with 66.6 million Catholics in the US, there were 154,450 marriages. This decline is reflective of broader trends in which only 25% of Millennials are at this point married. This decline in marriage in at least partially (there are many other reasons for this) indicative of the nearly impossible standards by which many find themselves discerning a spouse. Think, for example, about the show How I Met Your Mother. The entire sitcom is based on the assumption that marriage is something that one only does after finding your soul mate. If after six weeks of dating, if Ted doesn’t “feel anything,” then that person is not his soulmate. The series finale of the program (much maligned) has Ted marrying after a relationship of some seven years his long awaited soulmate.

Having couples yearly renew their vows (perhaps in the Easter season) in front of the assembly of believers is perhaps medicine against this notion of the soulmate. Here are couples, well aware that marriage is fundamentally a matter of the transformed will and less some sort of “magical finding of a soulmate.” Here are couples who have remained married despite the difficulties encounters. For these couples, marriage is a matter of self-gift over time, of bodies worn by age and love alike, becoming sacred signs to the community of the gift of marriage to the world. It would be an annual moment for children to remember that their parents are most capable of being parents insofar as they have been taken up into the gift of divine love that is the sacrament of marriage. For children to recognize, with reverence, the gift of divine love that has made possible the love that they encounter in their families.

It’s a small idea. But, I think the Synod on Marriage and Family should set aside this time throughout the Church for each married couple to renew their vows in the public assembly once a year. Holding up the gift and ideal of marriage on a yearly basis might do more to stemming the decline in marriage than we would imagine. And it would be an in-road to holding up marriage as the “priestly” and “prophetic” vocation it is in the modern world.




Liturgy and Vocation: Day 3

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Yesterday was a busy one for participants in our Symposium. In the morning, we welcomed Chad Pecknold from The Catholic University of America to give a lecture on “The Order of Freedom: Social and Political Effects of the Vocations to Priesthood and Marriage.” It’s important to the Center for Liturgy at each of our Symposia that we address liturgical and sacramental rites in the context of the broader culture in which such rites are carried out. 


Yesterday’s morning session began with an account of what Dr. Pecknold called the “pre-political” aspect of what it means to be human. That there is something about the human condition, which the state must recognize (including the nature of marriage and family life). Pecknold then offered an account of how the theological tradition has protected this pre-political aspect of humanity. Using an Augustinian reading of the two cities, he noted that the city of God is not an excuse for Christians to withdraw from social life. Rather, the city of God (and the city of man) are in fact spiritual dispositions. To belong to the city of God is, in the end, to guard the dignity of the human person; to guard that aspect of our identity that is pre-political (our being created in the image and likeness of God). Marriage and celibacy alike, as practiced within the Church, are part of the politics of the kingdom–the elevation of the natural to the supernatural. The sacraments of marriage and priesthood alike manifest to the world  the distinctive politics of the city of God not as an act of withdrawal but mission toward self-sacrificial love, the political discourse of the kingdom of God. Marriage and priesthood alike are thus public vocations, which the Church seeks to promote not simply for their own sake but for the flourishing of the polis.

The talk was an exceptionally learned one (we’ll make it available via video in the following weeks). The question and answer period was especially robust.

  • One diocesan leader inquired about the kind of love that should characterize the Church’s outreach to gay Catholics. A discussion ensued about ways of articulating the Church’s position on marriage, without succumbing to either rhetorical violence or required silence on the point.
  • A priest from the Midwest made a comment about marriage and undocumented immigrants. To perform the rite of marriage presently would necessitate letting the state know that said immigrant is undocumented. In such a situation, immigrants may in fact be drawn away from the sacrament of marriage rather than toward it. How the Church handles this is one of the pressing pastoral problems of the time.
  • In the blogo-sphere, there has been much discussion as of late about a “Benedict Option.” Michael Bayer from the University of Iowa asked a question about what Dr. Pecknold thought about the Benedict Option. Here, a discussion ensued (eventually moving to Twitter) as to whether the Benedict Option is consonant with a Catholic ecclesiological vision oriented toward mission and not withdrawal. Dr. Pecknold’s sense was that the Benedict Option, although attractive, is not one that the Church can take (at least as it is presently being formulated). Catechesis is what is most needed, not withdrawal.
  • Another question was asked about discernment and vocations to the priesthood. That most of the young men who come to the seminary are often themselves from families that have experienced brokenness. How, one might ask, does one cultivate vocations to the priesthood in this milieu? Dr. Pecknold recommended that there has to be an approach to discernment that moves beyond the individual toward a common, social good. That we have to act not merely as “individuals” but work toward communal discernment. Do you choose a vocation to the priesthood simply for your happiness or for the flourishing of the Church? Do you choose marriage for individual delight or because marriage gives life to the world? Catechesis and practices of discernment must engage this.
  • Lastly, a question was asked whether Catholic priests would one day need to withdraw from participating in the state sanctioning of marriages. Dr. Pecknold noted that the Church should not withdraw, because this “power” given to the Church by the state fundamentally recognizes the existence and power of the Church. The state should have to take this away; the Church should not give it away.

This morning’s talk, although not directly focusing upon the liturgical rites of the Church, expanded our imaginations to discern those pastoral problems around both priesthood and marriage (but especially the latter). This kind of astute cultural and social analysis is needed within each diocese.

Later in the afternoon, we had our final seminar period. And then celebrated Eucharist at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and a banquet at Legends of Notre Dame.


Liturgy and Vocation: Day 2 (Formation for Marriage and Priesthood)

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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After yesterday’s morning session at the Symposium, we broke off into seminar groups for the afternoon. Participants considered the deacon in the life of the Church, the recently translated (albeit…not approved) Rite of Marriage, a liturgical and sacramental approach to both marriage and priestly formation, and how liturgical music for marriage can be evangelizing. Reports from these seminars will come later. 

Last evening, we gathered for an informal panel on approaches to formation for marriage and priesthood alike. In our rather devilish scheme, we asked Msgr. Bill Schooler, pastor of Pius X parish in Granger, IN, to offer insights drawn from priestly formation for marriage. And Stacey and Joshua Noem (authors of the blog Happily Even After), experts in the area of marriage formation, described how priestly formation could be informed by marriage formation.

Rather than provide an exhaustive account of what was said (there will be video of the event later on our website), I thought I’d list five insights that were batted around.

1) One major problem with priestly formation is that it often takes place entirely apart from the people whom the priest is called to serve out of the depths of love. Seminaries often unintentionally create occasions of conflict insofar as lay students and seminarians do not study together. In this way, seminaries are a rarefied environment in which intellectual and spiritual formation is performed. But absent, at times, is attention to the kind of human formation that is necessary to be a priest.

2) Formation for both marriage and priesthood is not simply about formation received before the sacrament. In reality, one learns to be married by being married. One learns to be a priest by being a priest. Therefore, the Church cannot create formation programs that protect both priest and lay person from the various forms of “difficult learning” that occur in the context of living out the liturgical vocation. And, it is often in the liturgy itself that we learn to perform this vocation anew. This is what is meant by mystagogy.

3) The vocation to priesthood and marriage have rich theologies. These theologies need to be concretized through examples drawn from human life. It is one thing to say that in marriage one is taken up into Christ’s own redemptive love within the Church. It is another to give examples of what this looks like for couples. The goal is not to leave behind theological imagery. Rather, it is to move the one being formed from a “notional” assent to a “real” assent.

4) In both formation for marriage and priesthood, difficult conversations need to be had. Not every man who approaches his bishop should be ordained. Not every couple should be married. That being said, the formator cannot simply tell the person, no! There has to be options explored. In reality, many seminarians and married couples alike are in need of serious therapy. Counseling is an option in such a cases, one often under-utilized in the Church.

5) The art of formation is, in the end, an inexact one. A method can be followed exactly…and a marriage can still end. A priest can undertake eight years of formation and still not be prepared for the recognition that this vocation is difficult. Grace operates through history. Through movement in time and space. A couple, who apparently has no hope of survival in marriage preparation, can grow into the self-giving love needed. A priest, who is more interested in the personal power that comes with ordination, can learn what it means to be a pastor through the People of God.

Liturgy and Vocation: Day 1

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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The fourth annual Center for Liturgy Symposium is off and running (after a rather soggy start to our evening with thunderstorms taking over South Bend). Our opening session by Msgr. Michael Heintz introduced the major theme of the Symposium. Namely, the original vocation of humanity is not simply what we do within the world (marriage, priesthood, single life) but our vocation for divine worship. That we were made for worship, and the Eucharistic liturgy of the Church brings us back toward this original vocation. 

It is from this original vocation of self-sacrificial love that women and men within the Church live out their particular vocations as acts of worship. Msgr. Heintz emphasized that the problem with most forms of Christian life today is that we live our vocations as if they are about us. As he noted, ordination to the priesthood is not the conclusion to the spiritual life. Likewise, marriage is not simply about our relationship but it is about the salvation of the entire world. The sanctification of our spouses, our children, our parishioners, the entire human race.
image1This broad sense of our vocation to worship and thus to love humanity as divine gift opens us up at the Symposium to think not only about marriage and priesthood but both consecrated and single life as well. Although it is still early in our conference, it strikes me that thinking through our first vocation as an occasion for worship makes room for both a transitional and permanent vocation to the single life. That human flourishing is not only found in marriage or the “vowed” celibate state. That because we are made for self-sacrificial gift, that the single person can perform this “liturgical” love according to their own particular genius in the world. To concretize the claim, I have a single friend, who is willing to be present with the children of her friends at the drop of a hat. She is in a very real way a gift to her married friends, and her state (although it may be temporary), makes possible a unique form of love in the world. The theological implications of the single life are still being explored, as Msgr. Heintz noted, and I think our Symposium has already been enriched by thinking through this.

In addition, of course, a variety of our guests have already noted the “challenges” that come with promoting these vocations in modern life. Msgr. Heintz gave us essential categories for thinking through a catechesis of “liturgical” vocation. That is, part of the problem is precisely that we imagine our lives as simply our own; that our vocation is simply about us. Rather, our vocation is meant as a gift to the Church and to the world. How to carry out this formation in the modern world…well, that’s what we’ll be considering over the coming days.

This morning, we turn to a Scriptural exploration of Jesus Christ as Bridegroom. This afternoon, we’ll be posting a summary of this session.

Also, if you want to Tweet this out, be sure to use the hashtag #NDSymposium2015



Marriage and the Priesthood: The 2015 Symposium

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Next week, the Center for Liturgy will be gathering over a 100 participants for our fourth annual Symposium on the reformed rites of the Second Vatican Council. The goal of this event has been from the beginning to consider the cultural, sociological, liturgical, and theological facets of these rites as they are practiced in the early 21st century. In 2012, we treated the celebration of the Eucharist. In 2013, the rites of initiation. In 2014, the rites of healing. And now in 2015, the rites of vocation including marriage and the priesthood.

OrdinationFrom the beginning, the staff of the Center believed it was necessary to consider marriage and priesthood together in particular. That is, it has become common to speak about a vocations crisis today in the Church. One in which the dearth of priestly vocations (which do seem to be on the rise) has left the Church in the United States and Europe scrambling for those to preside over the rites of the Church. Rectories once populated with three or four priests are now lucky to have two. Priests are made pastors of large parishes before they have a chance to develop the necessary pastoral and administrative competencies, often leaving these young men burnt out early in their priestly vocation.

Yet, to the one attentive to pastoral realities, Christian marriage itself is experiencing its own crisis. The number of sacramental marriages have been on the decline over the last several years. Divorce among Catholics is high. Many young couples are afraid of marriage (even when in long-term relationships), fearful that committing oneself to another person too early will disable one’s ability to achieve success. Once married, the challenges faced by families are real. The Lineamenta in preparation for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the family notes:

 Cultural tendencies in today’s world seem to set no limits on a person’s affectivity in which every aspect needs to be explored, even those which are highly complex. Indeed, nowadays the question of affective fragility is a pressing one; a narcissistic, unstable or changeable affectivity does not always allow a person to grow to maturity. Particularly worrisome is the spread of pornography and the commercialization of the body, fostered also by a misuse of the internet and reprehensible situations where people are forced into prostitution. In this context, couples are often uncertain, hesitant and struggling to find ways to grow. Many tend to remain in the early stages of their affective and sexual life. A crisis in a couple’s relationship destabilizes the family and may lead, through separation and divorce, to serious consequences for adults, children and society as a whole, weakening its individual and social bonds. The decline in population, due to a mentality against having children and promoted by the world politics of reproductive health, creates not only a situation in which the relationship between generations is no longer ensured but also the danger that, over time, this decline will lead to economic impoverishment and a loss of hope in the future. The development of bio-technology has also had a major impact on the birthrate (9)

If there is a crisis, then, in both priesthood and marriage alike, it is necessary to ask ourselves whether it is possible to offer a theological and pastoral response to this crisis. And to discern whether the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church includes resources to respond to this pastoral problem. Of course, we think yes.


Thus, next week from June 8-11, 2015, we will be featuring live updates through Twitter (#NDSymposium2015) and our Facebook Page from our various speakers and seminars, as we begin to explore this common problem together. Some of the questions that will be integral to our gathering  will include:

  • What images from the Scriptures and theological tradition of the Church might we employ in the formation of those discerning a vocation to marriage or priesthood?
  • What is a liturgical theology of vocation? And how might this liturgical theology inform practices of discernment relative to marriage and priesthood alike?
  • What might those involved in marriage formation learn from those engaged in priestly formation? And vice versa?
  • What are the political and social implications of these vocations today?
  • How can one perform marriage preparation as an evangelizing activity in the Church today, reaching out to the very margins? What role does liturgical music itself have in this activity of evangelization?
  • What resources are available for a liturgical and sacramental theology of the ministerial priesthood, one that can sustain a priest over the long haul?
  • Who is the deacon? And how might he contribute to this renewal of family life and Church alike?

Even if you can’t make it to our Symposium, we invite you to join along in asking these questions with us through social media or through attending to the study guides that we will produce after the Symposium. We look forward to hosting yet another Symposium that seeks to carry out the liturgical movement’s deep concern to connect liturgy and life, enabling liturgical prayer to transform not simply the life of the believer but society as a whole. Join us in this liturgical approach to carrying out the New Evangelization.


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?


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.

In Praise of Adoption

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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The following piece is written in honor of Adoption Awareness Month (November).

Recently, I found myself reading a book on Thanksgiving, a text that my wife was considering using for a parents’ gathering at our parish. The authors of the children’s book were concerned with presenting a wide swath of humanity, all assembling together to celebrate the American meal par excellence. One page, specifically, grabbed my attention. One of the aunts arrived at the meal, a child in tow (along with pumpkin pies). The text made sure to point out that the infant, who the aunt was bringing along, was her “adopted child.”

At first, I admired the move made by the author of said book. It is normative for adopting parents today to reveal to their son or daughter (at the right time) his or her status as adopted. Undoubtedly, this is healthier for the psychological development of the child, who grows up aware of the particularity of his or her narrative. This book publicly recognized that there are children in the world, who are also adopted. If literature functions as a kind of mirror, the adopted child encountered in this Thanksgiving narrative a recognized status. There are other adopted children in the world. I am not alone.

Yet, since my initial reading, I have grew concerned about the function of the adopted infant in this children’s book. When I introduce my son to other people, I generally don’t say, “The toddler who is presently trying to throw himself into a mound of snow–he is my adopted child.” No, he is my son. Although my wife and I did not conceive him through sex reproduction, he is the sacramental embodiment of our love extended into the world (along with the gift of his birth mother and father). Although we don’t share genetic material with one another, we share biological matter all the time with our toddler. SleepingBabyI hold him when sickness takes over his body, no longer thinking twice about wiping snot from his nose or cleaning vomit off the floor. When I eat yogurt in the morning, there is no doubt that this food is also his, as he toddles toward me–his mouth agape to receive a food that he normally rejects (except when dad is eating it). My heartbeat is recognizable to him, enough so that he calms down as soon as I hold him in the midst of a restless sleep. He is mine, and I am his.

Nonetheless, whether adopted or not, Kara and I will experience the reality that all parents come to know so well. Our son, the one who drastically changed our lives, re-oriented every facet of our existence (like a dictator), will one day make it clear to the world that he is not ours. That he is an independent being, capable of thought and action, apart from his beloved (and adopting) parents. In reality, every child born into the world is an “adopted” child insofar as that creature is never really “ours” to begin with. And from the perspective of the child, he or she is born into a family GiftoftheSon(whether adopted or not) that was not chosen by the child. All that we receive in our earliest days upon earth is given to us without anyone seeking out our particular interest in receiving it. Born into the world, each of us are adopted into a language, a culture, a religious tradition, an ethos. Our facial gestures, our style of speaking, our interests–these are bestowed to us as gift. As I’ve written elsewhere:

Every human being, in fact, is adopted (or at least should be) into an ecology of…love. Adoption is a sign for all Christians that a person’s fundamental identity is as one who has received love: the love of God generously and precariously poured out upon creation, the love of God manifested in Christ, who reveals to us that our humanity was made for total self-gift. Those relationships with teachers, friends and parents, which immerse us into the logic of this sort of love, reveal to us that we are indeed beloved.

Adoption, as a form of family life, serves a prophetic function in the Christian life. It reminds us of the “giftedness” of life itself. Life is not “gift” because it is an extension of our own biological productivity. Life is gift because…it is. Everything that we receive is inscribed in an act of generosity that is divine love itself. From a Christian perspective, a marriage is fruitful (and thus Trinitarian and Eucharistic), not simply when it introduces new biological children into the world, but when it forms a space in which we come to recognize the concrete gift of love itself.

My child is thus “adopted,” but in a very really way, his adoption is not entirely distinct from all of us who enter into a world that we did not choose to abide within in the first place. My son has not chosen his parents; but nor did I, a product of a biological marriage. Adoption is a particular form of family life, consonant with the Christian narrative as a whole, that inscribes us primordially in the gift first received. Much theological work still needs to be done relative to a number of these themes.

Nonetheless, it is inadequate to articulate a sacramental theology of marriage, which perceives adoption as a benign aberration vis-a-vis biological Christian family life. Adoption, for both child and parent, introduces a particular form of life that is radically sacramental in its particularity. It reveals to us God’s plan for humanity, for creation itself, as adopted into a love that we can only imagine. Adoption, biological childbirth, and spiritual paternity or maternity together reveal a full image of what constitutes entrance into the family of God.


Adoption is worthy of such praise, not simply in the month of November, but all the days of the calendar year.


Synod 2014: It’s Not Just About Remarriage and Communion

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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I’m not getting a divorce. I do not say this in any way to brag about my willpower relative to marital fidelity. Nor would I ever want to claim that being married and having a family in the modern world is particularly easy. But, I love my wife far more than I did when we got married close to nine years ago. The favorite part of my day is the evening when Kara and I play together with our son, throwing various athletic equipment at his mother. I’m not always a great husband. Nor am I a perfect father. But, I know that being married to Kara has made me a more mature disciple, capable of real love. Marriage and family life is my path to salvation, the way that I am becoming “a partaker in divine life,” to quote one of the Eucharistic prefaces for the Rite of Marriage.

In the midst of much public discourse around the Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family, one would think that the only topic worth talking about relative to marriage and family life is the dilemma of divorce. Based on such coverage, you could easily imagine that the bishops of the Church have gathered together in Rome not to present a vision to the world of the gift of Christian marriage and family. Perhaps, the Synod that is taking place should instead be synodcalled “The Extraordinary Synod for the Possibility of Communion for the Divorce and Remarried.”

Yet, this focus (including by many blogs in the Catholic world) fails to see the opportunity at hand. That is, the sacrament of marriage is not just a rite that the Church performs, one that canonically binds this couple together for the rest of their lives. Rather, marriage is a concrete, bodily way that the couple enters into the Church’s narrative of salvation. It is an encounter with the Good News that Christ is risen from the dead, and that everything about being human (including marriage and sex and raising children and making chili on a Saturday afternoon) is now bathed in resurrection light.

Marriage, in fact, may be the most concrete way for the Church to proclaim what she is ultimately about in the modern world. The Church is not the society of human beings, who gather to escape the world at all costs. We are deeply interested in the world, because it is that which is most human that will be redeemed. The Nuptial Blessings of the Church testify to this:

In happiness may they praise you, O Lord,/in sorrow may they seek you out; may they have the joy of your presence/to assist them in their toil,/and know that you are near/to comfort them in their need;/let them pray to you in the holy assembly/and bear witness to you in the world,/and after a happy old age,/together with the circle of friends that surrounds them,/may the come to the Kingdom of Heaven.

For those of us are married, it is the drama of the salvation of the world itself that plays out in our domestic lives. Kara and I are signs to the world that Christ’s love does not require us to leave behind laughter and joy, watching movies and holding hands, chatting over dinner with non-expensive wine and watching people in public places (a favorite pastime). Marriage is a school of virtue in which we learn to love unto the end, to discover the brilliant light of divine love in caring for a sick spouse or spending 2 AM with a child, who is awake for no discernable reason.

MarriageMore than anything else, this is what the Synod needs to turn its attention to (not my son’s unexplained wakefulness but the vocation of marriage as Eucharistic). If the primary focus remains on threats to marriage in the world, or how the Church responds to divorce, then we’re no better than the disciples who locked themselves up after the Resurrection of Christ. Instead, we need to proclaim to the world that it is the very ordinary, mundane married couple who becomes sacramental signs of salvation for the world. It is this couple, who presents to the Church herself the fullest vision of who she is to become: a sign of Christ’s total self-giving love to the world.

FamilyProcessionPerhaps, then, if the Church really wants to take care of the problem of divorce, the implementation of the Synod at the local level will need to direct more attention to the Good News at the heart of married life. Marriage is not just the source of problems to solve but the primary way that the Church can proclaim and live the Gospel in the modern world. This proclamation is not a series of abstract doctrines proclaimed from on high, a story that remains disconnected from the rest of our lives. Instead, the Good News at the heart of marriage is simply that God has decided to save us through something so mundane, so particular, so bodily, so normal as family life. That God has revealed to us the gift of the created order, and in the context of marriage and family life, we manifest to the world that everything is gift. Marriage and family life is Eucharistic from the beginning: through it we learn to see the fullness of gift, so that we can offer this gift back to the Father.

This Good News of marriage is what the Church must proclaim. We must learn to support those married couples, struggling to live the marriage kerygma in their lives for reasons of poverty, therapeutic understandings of marriage, etc . But, the first step is to offer a vision of married life as so persuasive, so beautiful, so salvific that it actually attracts the attention of the world. And indeed, if Christianity is to survive seculariziation, any form of modern deconstruction, it is probably going to be through the Eucharistic life of the family. For it is precisely here that the heresy of modernity (the separation of the spiritual and the material, the sacred from the profane) is deconstructed:

“If there is a profane song of the world, there must be a gracious canticle of the creatures, a place of prayerful speech on which converges the world’s beauty. We cannot tear ourselves away from the world to offer ourselves to God…” (Jean-Louis Chretien, The Ark of Speech, 120).

The gift of married life for the new evangelization is that it reminds the Church and the world alike that matter really matters. That the Gospel takes flesh not merely in ideas or intellectual assents. But in those hidden offerings of Christian love, never to be seen, that define the domestic sphere. Marriage is, thus, permanent not because the Church wants to make couples’ lives difficult. Marriage is permanent, because Christ’s love is permanent. For this reason, the renewal of marriage won’t occur through new rules and regulations (no matter how well thought through). Rather, the renewal of marriage and family life will take place when every couple married in the Church realizes the wonder of the vocation that they undertake. It will take place when the Church, including her ordained ministers, properly see the couple as a prophetic and sacramental sign of Christ’s own love for the world.

That’s what Synod 2014 should be about. If it were, then we might realize the remarkable vision of married life set forth at the Council. Until then, I’d be happy to address the next Synod about this…