Tag Archives: Notre Dame Vision

The Hidden Advent of God

Kollman, KathleenKathleen Kollman 

University of Notre Dame, Class of 2017

Notre Dame Vision, Mentor-in-Faith 2014

 

I sat next to my grandfather in the pew. He had his songbook open and was singing along in his distinctively loud voice to whatever old-fashioned hymn the choir had chosen for Mass that morning. Their voices did not fall too kindly on my ears, either; they had the kind of old, wobbly voices characteristic of perhaps too many church ensembles. I was distracted, not paying attention to my own hymn book but instead sneaking glances at my grandfather next to me, who was so absorbed in every word, singing each one with confidence and conviction. He looked concentrated, yet peaceful; exhausted, yet glad to be exactly where he was. When the song ended, he turned his full attention back to the priest, who began the opening prayers.

I tried to focus as well, but was unable. Honestly, this church had never been my favorite, with its high, echoey ceilings that made the sounds of the liturgy seem miles away. The old-fashioned music. The dryness of this priest’s homilies. At age fifteen, I was just starting to EmptyPewsappreciate the Mass for its beauty, just beginning to take an interest in the saints and the holy lives they led then and lead now, and just starting to think that I might want to live a life of such holiness as well. But this Mass? This did not seem like holiness, despite my grandpa’s clear love of it. God, in his glory and mystery, felt far from this place.

After Mass, my grandpa and I got in the car and drove to visit my grandmother in her nursing home. It was the first time that I’d seen her since her disease (a rare combination of Alzheimer’s and Dementia) had begun to severely take its toll. Her mind and body were deteriorating quickly, and my grandpa was spending every minute that he could with her. I was nervous to see her. I didn’t know how much she’d remember of me or what this meeting would be like at all.

We arrived at the nursing home and my grandfather led me inside and to my grandmother’s room. He went in and beckoned for me to follow.

I had known that my grandma was in a wheelchair now, and I had heard some of the details of her illness, but I was not prepared for what I saw. The woman who had barely two years ago seemed to be a lively, healthy sixty-five year old woman was now incredibly weak and infirm. She looked sunken in her wheelchair, small and fragile, with tired-looking eyes and a worn countenance. She did not react when I came in, nor when my grandpa gently took her hand and explained to her who it was that had come to see her. My grandpa told me she could understand him, though how he knew, I have no idea. In my shock I did not know what to do, but my grandpa suggested we take grandma out back to the sunny garden, so I blindly followed them out.

GardenBenchesIn the garden we settled down on two little benches across from one another, and my grandfather pulled grandma’s wheelchair up right next to him. He talked to her for a bit, while all the while she remained silent and motionless, then reached into his bag. He took out a copy of the daily scriptures and, settling in, began to read them out loud to us. Again, grandma did not react, though I remembered that in years past she had loved going to church with him. When he finished reading, after a moment’s pause he reached into his bag and pulled out a gold container and opened it.

“The Body of Christ,” he said, and then he gently and patiently helped my grandmother consume the host. She had been having trouble eating on her own as of late, so he made sure she got it down.

He was so absorbed in her that I could just sit in silence and try to fit my heart around what I was witnessing.

My grandmother was so infirm as to be almost unrecognizable from the woman I had known and loved all my life. I almost didn’t know whether to love her – where were the characteristics in her that I loved? Yet my grandfather treated her the same, or even more lovingly than before her illness, even though he received no warmth or affection in return. If he loved her for her personality, for what she could give to him, then that person was gone, and in its place just the shell of a woman he once loved. But this was not so – from the 365050.TIFbeautifully tender way he looked at her, from the way he held her hand, it was perfectly clear that this person was his same “Patsy,” his wife of forty-plus years, and her very existence was precious to him.

In that moment I had a flash of intuition, and I felt a few things that later blossomed into understanding. One conviction was that my grandmother was not lost – she was right there – and that she had an untouchable dignity and holiness. There was no other way of putting it. You could sense it if you saw her through the gaze of one who loved her for her very essence – if you could see her how she deserved to be seen. The second understanding, very much related to the first, was that in that moment I had witnessed divine love right in front of me. My grandfather’s gaze at my grandma was a picture of God’s gaze at me and at anyone and everyone: a picture of lavish, unchanging love that did not expect adequate response. And the third understanding, which encapsulates all and was impressed on me the greatest, was that life itself, the very living of life itself, is undeniably and totally and irrevocably holy. And this was entirely due to the One whose very life had made all other human life holy in itself – Jesus. For some reason, I knew in that moment that my grandmother taking the Body of Christ into her was incredibly significant, and for possibly the first time in my life I felt Jesus had really lived amidst all the brokenness of real life, not some distant sort of “holy” life. He had truly lived, and would continue to live and be present within something as weak and infirm as my grandmother’s body, and perhaps in something as seemingly ordinary and messy as my own life. Did I have to strive to make my very life holy? No. I had seen that life was holy in itself. What I needed to do was recognize that and then live into the holiness – to try and magnify and increase the holiness that had already been given to me by Christ.

Later, when I reflected back on that day, I remembered the feeling I’d had at Mass – or rather, the lack of feeling, which had represented much more than my dislike of the Mass and was likely founded in my idea that holiness was something distant. I remembered that feeling of distance and I truly felt how wrong that was. God in his glory and mystery was fully present in that beautifully inadequate celebration of Him. Like my grandfather, God would keep on smiling and loving even though my response, like my grandmother’s, was often inadequate, because he could see through the weakness that I was the one he loved

Editorial Updates: 8/20-8/24

Friends, it’s been a while since we’ve had an update from the editors.   Summers at the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy and the Institute for Church Life are full of conferences, retreats, and teaching. This week, with the start of classes at the University, we’re returning to more regular posting (4 or 5 times a week).  This week, we’ll have a sermon by Kevin Grove, C.S.C., the beginning of a longer series of columns re-reading each year of Orate Fratres and later Worship by Tim O’Malley, and an article on lay ecclesial ministry by one of our new authors, Daniel Whitehouse.

In addition, friends, we’re happy to announce a new blog by Notre Dame Vision, entitled Full of Grace.  The blog:

is an exercise in seeing.  That is, this blog presents reflections from young adults (and some not-so-young-adults) that are testaments to the gift of seeing grace in the midst of what might otherwise seem like ordinary life experiences.  These are stories of the openness of interpretation, of grace interpreting us, of us interpreting ourselves in the order of grace.  In the subtleties, challenges, sufferings, joys, and details of very real human lives, those who share their reflections with us have learned to see the God who has drawn near to them.  A life that isfull of grace is one that has made a home for the Word-made-flesh.  Moments glimpsed as mediating grace are signposts on the lifelong journey of allowing one’s life to become such a home.  Eyes open to glimpsing grace are persistent, humble, and hopeful eyes, for to see grace is to receive what may only come in time and with the courageous willingness to believe.  These stories are about this kind of seeing.

Make sure to check-in weekly to read more about the transformation of vision afforded by the grace of God.

Lastly, we’re in the final stages of our journal, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization.  We hope to have it available no later than September 5.

For those of you also involved in teaching and ministry, blessings as you begin a new academic year.

 

Self-Giving Love is Reality

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

Contact Author

I exist.  My life is real.   At least once-a-month, I come anew to what may seem like a rather unsophisticated insight.  After all, the “realness” of a life seems obvious to the observer.  I breathe.  I eat.   I encounter other human beings.  I get up in the morning, go to the gym and then to the office.  I come home at the end of the day and eat dinner with my wife.   I read a book, and then I go to bed.

But, there is more to living than physicality; more than simply fulfilling the tasks that come my way each day.  The insight regarding the reality of my life is one in which I awaken to the fact that I exist here and now.  I am in this place, in this time, in relationships with other people who are also very real.   And everything that I do each day has a tangible effect upon a world, a world that is not imaginary.  The life I live is not merely a phantasy, a postmodern universe of simulacra.  I am really here, right now!

This summer, I had the privilege of watching over sixty undergraduate students come to an analogous insight.  These undergraduates, mentors-in-faith with the Notre Dame Vision program, ministered to 1200 high school students around the country.   Through their witness, they guided those younger than them to perceive that there is a God who calls, one who revealed the depths of divine love in Jesus Christ, and who has called each of us to live according to this logic of self-giving love through the Spirit.  That is our vocation.   And over the course of the summer, the mentors-in-faith lived in a community in which they practiced dwelling together according to this logic of love.   They saw that the Christian life is not an idea or a series of moralistic maxims.  It is love unto to the end.   And as they practiced such love over the course of six weeks, they began to see that this love is the reality of the cosmos.  Self-giving love is reality.

Of course, now their summer together has come to an end.   They have departed campus and returned to the “world”.  And the recurring question as they left:   how can I live this way, how can I love like this once I get back to the “real” world?

Most of what we mean by the real world is in fact a series of falsehoods:

  • In the real world, the covers of magazines tell me what constitutes true beauty, true happiness; to be beautiful, to be worth anything, I must look like that.
  • In the real world, complete happiness is only possible when I achieve the career of my dreams, becoming famous and rich in the process.
  • In the real world, only those who are important to the function of society of matter; everyone else is relatively expendable, to be “used” as long as they provide some benefit to me.
  • In the real world, politics operate according to a hidden violence, whereby candidates do whatever it takes to not only remain in office, but to remain entrenched there.

Christians, including these mentors-in-faith, know that this “supposed” real world is false.  A lie.   The true simulacra.  Creation is no accident but the “logic” of a God, who loves unto the end, who creates humanity in the image and likeness of God.  Our “imaging” of God is not a matter of power, of prestige, of transcendence, but of humility, of self-emptying, of love.  Of learning to dwell according to the order of gift, rather than the economy of exchange.  And true happiness is only possible once we have given ourselves away in love in imitation of the Triune God.

This self-gift is the real world.   It is the meaning of creation.  Of the covenant in the Old Testament.  Of the prophets’ call for Israel to return to the Lord, our God.  Of Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross on Calvary.  The biblical narrative purifies our imaginations so that we can look at reality clearly, developing the proper vision for judging the created order.

The problem with the supposed “real” world is that it rejects such self-giving love as naïve, intellectually unsophisticated, as revealing weakness that will be taken advantage of by the strong.  Quoting John 3:16-21:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.   For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.  He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God.   And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.   For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.   But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God (Jn. 3:15-21).

In the Gospel of John, to believe in the only-begotten Son is to believe that he is the Word made flesh, the Incarnate logos, the fashioner of all creation now become human.  And his presence is the manifestation of God’s own love for the world, a light that shines into the darkness of the world, exposing our half-truths.  In Christ, the very reasoning behind reality takes flesh and shows us that love is the meaning of existence.  And his resurrection is a sign that love (despite all signs to the contrary) does conquer death, light does shine into the darkness of the world.  But the source of the light’s strength is precisely, to use Paul’s own language, the weakness and foolishness of God.  It is Jesus Christ himself:

The living body that achieves this is the world’s supreme work of art and love; in it, the ugliest side of our history, in all of its realism, is transformed from within into what is most beautiful:  bearing, forgiving, and transforming Love, and it is therefore proper that this memorial is made over to us forever in the sacrament of the Eucharist.   It would not be what it is if our own dying were not also taken up in it and transformed into an achievement of theanthropic love.   We drink the blood that was shed by us, yet, on a deeper level, for us.  And if we are afraid of dying because we do not know how to do this:  to consent to being swept away as a whole, then we should not forget that someone was able to do it for us beforehand, someone who did not die as some individual next to us, but who, dying and suffering, already bore our death in himself (Hans urs von Balthasar, Life Out of Death:  Meditations on the Paschal Mystery, 37-38).

To practice living then “a real life” involves giving ourselves up to death, to carry out the Eucharistic vocation of each Christian to love unto the end.   The supposed “real” world will reject such love, precisely because of the effects of sin that are still quite real.  The Misfit from Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” encounters the graceful love of the Grandmother, and he’ll react to such love the only way that sin knows how to:  through violence.  The darkness is afraid of the light; the light threatens it.   But even as the Christian encounters such rejection, he or she responds with the same self-giving love of Christ himself.  For Christian love is bearing, forgiving, transforming.   It is the love of God incarnate in the world.

And slowly, one will notice a transformation of the supposed “real” world.  Those who live in the truth of self-giving love, who choose gratitude above greed, are the source of creation’s transfiguration.  As our vision is reformed, enlightened, purified, we begin to gaze upon creation and ourselves in the proper light and see reality as it is.  We become saints, soberly gazing upon all of creation in love; and where there is darkness, we do not respond with violence, with anger, but the gift of ourselves.

So to those mentors (and all those who return from summer retreats), who are concerned about being a faithful Christian in the “real” world.   Let the reality of self-giving love that you have experienced come to shape your vision, your dwelling within the world.   Only then can you dare to call the world real.