Tag Archives: Pedagogy

“Let Our Mouth Be Filled with Your Praise”

Rob De La Noval

2nd Year Doctoral Candidate, History of Christianity

University of Notre Dame

In its whirlwind of genuflections, full-body crossings, language-shifts, censing of icons, and seemingly endless congregational chanting, it’s not difficult to recognize a Byzantine rite liturgy when you stumble upon it. For years this liturgy has been available to believers in the areas surrounding Notre Dame (either at St. Andrews Greek Orthodox Church in South Bend or at Mishawaka’s St. Michael’s Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church), but this past Sunday marked the second celebration of such a liturgy on Notre Dame’s own campus. Students, faculty, friends of the theological community in South Bend crammed into Malloy Hall for a service of what can only be called a “holy disorientation,”—or, perhaps better, a holy orientation, for this celebration of Melkite Greek Catholic worship transformed the normally sparse “Seat of Wisdom” chapel into an icon of the more densely outfitted Eastern churches where the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is typically performed.

static1.squarespaceThe worship space, cramped though it was due to full attendance (standing room only), appeared nonetheless spacious in the way an empty room can suddenly encompass multitudes once it has been thoughtfully furnished. Indeed, the chapel seemed to emanate from the altar outwards in concentric circles: two wooden portable iconostases, bearing images of Christ and of the Theotokos, framed the altar; gorgeously vested altar servers flanked Fr. Khaled Anatolios, newly appointed Professor of History of Christianity at ND and recently ordained Melkite priest, and Fr. Michael Magree, a Latin rite priest who served as deacon in the service; and the wood of the room itself, lining the ceiling and boarding its floors, received the gold of the icons, priests, and servers with a warm familiarity that redounded upon the worshipers embraced by the Seat of Wisdom.

These ‘circles of worship’ also manifested themselves in the circuitous nature of the liturgy itself. If the Roman Rite is known for the straightforward solemnity of its progression to the Eucharistic feast, the Byzantine rite reaches the same climax as its Western counterpart only after various cycles of prayers which cumulatively create sacred meaning for the worshipers and instruct them in the mystery of Christ the Church receives in her liturgy.

Before the Divine Liturgy even properly begins, the congregation has already been led by the cantor through various doxologies and hymns to Christ, culminating in the priest’s opening prayer culled from Psalm 51:

“O Lord, You Shall open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.”

This prayer receives its conclusive echo at the end of the liturgy, immediately after the faithful have received the holy Body and Blood of the Lord, when the congregation sings,

“Let our mouth be filled with Your praise, O Lord, for You have counted us worthy to share Your holy, immortal and spotless Mysteries.”

The celebrant’s opening prayer is finally answered when the mouths of the celebrant and all the faithful are filled with the flesh and blood of the Son, the eternal Praise of the Father.

So the Byzantine rite, in these reverend reverberations, teaches us as we sing that we must not only verbally praise the Lord, but we must become the Lord if He is to be rightly praised. This is why, when the priest elevates the elements and cries, “Holy things for the Holy!,” the people respond, “One is holy, One is Lord, Jesus Christ to the Glory of God the Father.” Lest we approach the sacrament presumptively, we are warned that holy things are only for the holy; lest we not approach due to ungodly fear, we are reminded (in words evoking Jesus’ own in the Gospels) that “only One is holy”, the Lord Christ, and that He intends to make us holy by joining us to Himself in the sacrament.

The litanies recurring throughout the liturgy represent another significant series of cycles peculiar to the Byzantine rite. The congregation’s first act in the liturgy is to pray the “Litany of Peace.” In these prayers we supplicate the Lord for His Church and for His world, using that most ancient Christian prayer, “Lord, have mercy.” Following the homily the people embark on a second litany, the “Ecumenic Litany,” in which we pray once again for the Lord’s mercy on the Church, world, and—after a brief interlude—for the gifts offered for consecration. In the third litany, right before Communion, the people pray again (“Lord, have mercy”), but this time, puzzlingly, for the gifts which have already been sanctified.

In this prayer over the sanctified elements we find that the litanies have assumed a new character, one not focused solely on the needs of sinners. We pray the Lord’s mercy even over the good He has done for us by making the gifts we bring Him into the very Body of the Lord. This subtle transformation of prayer for mercy finds its climax in the post-Communion thanksgiving, in which the priest asks us:

“Now that we have received the divine, holy, spotless, immortal, heavenly, life-giving, awesome mysteries of Christ, let us give worthy thanks to the Lord.”

We respond, once again, with “Lord, have mercy.” In the course of this divine liturgy, prayer and supplication become praise and thanksgiving. This is what is means to thank the Lord: to invoke Him without end. And this should not surprise us: after all, the Lord whom we invoke is the One named again and again throughout the liturgy “the lover of mankind.”

What is more, this dual act of petition and praise becomes the model of our life beyond the liturgy, for immediately after the priest us calls us to “go forth in peace,” he unexpectedly continues the liturgy by calling, “Let us pray to the Lord,” to which we reply, once again, “Lord have mercy.” This twice repeated call for prayer extends the dismissal, inviting us to consider that the liturgy’s effect on us is preparation for a life of ceaseless invocation of the Lord’s mercy—which invocation is, in fact, nothing other than His praise.

jp-2-with-orthodox-clergyStanding at worship last Sunday in the Seat of Wisdom, I regularly took in during our corporate prayer the oceans of Byzantine gold, but at times another vision demanded my attention. I speak of the giant Latin crucifix of Christ jutting out of the chapel’s south wall. The charred, suffering Jesus there looked down at his crucified Byzantine counterpart depicted on the small cross set on the altar. Throughout the liturgy, the celebrant, his back to the people, would face the altar, lift his hands, and turn his eyes upwards to heaven and, inescapably, also to the crucifix hanging there before him.

Two images of Jesus met there: East and West. With the addition of this Eastern Catholic liturgy to Notre Dame’s campus, we can now add to this another union, one beloved of Pope John Paul II: two lungs.

To know, love and imitate

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

ND ’14, MTS ’16 (History of Christianity)

Managing Editor

 Contact Author

For as long as I’ve been aware of super heroes, I’ve wanted to be one. I grew up under the influence of Batman, Superman, Spiderman and the X-Men, wishing I could one day be like they were. And for awhile, I believed that I could be.

When I was young enough to still weigh under 70 pounds, I sought to imitate some of my favorite heroes by learning to fly. I would go down into our basement closet, unhook a strap from one of my family’s suitcases, loop it over the closet pole, and hook it onto my belt loop. I remember suspending myself by my waist, stretching my arms out and pretending like I could fly. “If I keep practicing,” I would tell myself, “one day I’ll fly for real.”

One of my most humbling childhood experiences was the day that I realized I was not, in fact, a superhero. One afternoon, I snuck downstairs for my normal routine. I took the suitcase strap from the storage room, went back to my closet, and hoisted myself up. No sooner had I pulled myself off the ground than my belt loop tore off from my pants and I landed flat on my face on the carpet.tumblr_luxtlpfCoe1qa3781o1_400

Though my flying lessons may have ceased shortly thereafter (after all, I did have a couple more pairs of pants to go through), my knowledge and love for super heroes continued to grow. While some kids memorized the stats of their favorite baseball players, I was busy learning the names Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent and Tony Stark. And as I’ve grown older, this interest has only been nourished by the endless releases of superhero movies since Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. All this is to say: I know a great deal more about super heroes than I know about most other things.

But although I know many of the back stories, secret identities, and classic villains of the heroes inhabiting the Marvel and DC universes, I’ve never met any of them. I’ve never shaken their hands, I’ve never spoken with one. My knowledge of these figures, though perhaps encompassing, is superficial. My knowledge is essentially reducible to a list of facts.

There is something else you should know about my childhood: I am a proud ‘cradle Catholic.’ I was baptized not long after my birth, attended twelve years of Catholic school (plus pre-school and kindergarten), and knew most of the answers in my religion classes. I’ve studied my catechism, I’ve been to different churches and retreats, and I can recall some of the lessons I’ve learned in them. I’ve prayed morning and night prayers, and weekly rosaries with my family. I’ve studied the bible and could recount to you most of the stories found within.I ‘know’ Jesus Christ, in the sense that I am not ignorant of him. I know that he is the Son of God, that he became man by uniting himself with human nature, that he was born in a manger in Bethlehem to Mary and Joseph. I know that for thirty years he lived in relative obscurity, largely unrecorded aside from a couple of episodes here and there. At age thirty he left this hidden life to preach the Good News, and I know that he did so while astounding people with his miracles, blessings, healings, exorcisms, and invitations. He called twelve men to follow him, raised Lazarus from the dead, and walked on water. He was sentenced to death by crucifixion, and died on that cross in atonement for my sins and the sins of the world. After three days he rose, appeared to his disciples and forty days later ascended into heaven. I have spent my lifetime learning these truths, much like I learned the facts and figures of my favorite super heroes.

But for all of this knowledge, it’s taken a year and a half into a theology masters and an encounter with the writings of a 19th-century French priest to make me really wonder how much I know, much less act like, Christ; much like it took falling on my face a couple of times to make me question if I really was the superhero I thought I was. I know so much about Jesus’ life – why is it that sometimes I feel like I don’t know him any better than I know Bruce Wayne?

“You have known all these facts a long time already,” Basil Moreau writes in his Spiritual Exercises, “and it is precisely because you have read them and heard them so often that perhaps your heart is now less than sensitive to them” (Basil Moreau: Essential Writings. Gawrych and Grove, ed., 224).

Moreau has a vision of knowledge that goes beyond memorizing facts. It is not enough, he writes, to be “merely acquainted with Jesus Christ, his sayings, and his life as one takes pride in knowing the history of a famous celebrity” (224).

My knowledge of super heroes is not sufficient for coming to know Jesus Christ. 

“It is not enough,” Moreau repeats:

You will need to fill and nourish your heart with his teachings, to meditate on these mysteries in silent recollection as well as on the abundance of his mercies. You will also need to ask God to enlighten your mind and heart so that you may understand and savor them in such a way that you may come to that kind of knowledge of Jesus Christ that is life-giving, profound, luminous, and practical, and which make his virtues almost palpable, so to speak, his lessons familiar, and remembrance of him as habitual as it is enjoyable (Essential Writings, 224).

For all of the hours I have spent watching super hero films, and for the time I have put in to familiarizing myself with the characters, universes and stories: am I really studying with equal diligence “the Gospel of Jesus Christ whose every word is written for [my] salvation” (ibid)?

The knowledge Moreau speaks of both begins and ends in love and imitation of Christ: “Love Jesus Christ,” he writes, “and before long his thoughts, his feelings, and his way of living will be your own” (225). For, as  Gregory of Nyssa writes, “you ought to be the painter of the Savior’s life” (ibid). And a painter studies his subject, filling himself so completely with it in order to reproduce it and create it anew on canvas “in a very close imitation of the subject’s features.” So like a painter, fill yourself with Jesus Christ. Contemplate his virtues, dispositions and truths in the scriptures. Meditate on his humility, simplicity, and poverty. And finally, “take his cross in your hands and say to yourself: ‘Who is this who died thus in the midst of most dreadful sorrows? It is Jesus Christ, my God and my savior. And why these sufferings? Ah, it is his love for me that crucified him’” (226).

3865footofcross_00000003253It is at the foot of this cross, as Moreau writes, that all of the great saints of every age were taught and formed. Like the saints, and all the disciples of the Gospel with the holy ambition of becoming other Christs, we too will come to that knowledge of Christ that is “life-giving, profound, luminous, and practical”at the foot of the cross. And in knowing Christ in this way, we will come to love him. In loving him, we will desire to imitate him.

Perhaps my attempts to fly were born of a kind of desire to know, love and imitate that which I loved. But we were made to imitate Christ, and to learn and be formed by him at the foot of the cross – a much more reliable support than the closet pole.

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‘Primetime’ and Pedagogy

unnamedScott Boyle

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Vision

Coordinator, Notre Dame Catechist Academy

Contact Author

I almost don’t remember the days I would wake up early to watch “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” before kindergarten. I’d usually wake up right at 7:00am and run to the TV with just enough time to catch him picking out his sweater.

Before the days of Netflix, Amazon Prime and HBO Go, I had one shot to catch the episode. Wake up too late, and I’d miss King Friday XIII presiding over the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

These days, almost any programming is available on demand. Plan your schedule around the most popular shows on prime time? No need. Want to watch all three seasons of House of Cards or Parks and Recreation? No problem. Now, any time is prime time.

Traditionally, prime time refers to the period when the most eyeballs are on the television, usually between 7:30 and 11:00pm. Prime time programming is designed not only to capture, but also to hold the attention and interest of the broadest section of viewership.

Advertisers have realized that more viewership and attention during prime time means greater exposure for their commercials. More attention increases the likelihood that they will have greater success educating (and convincing) us of the necessity of their latest products.Pedagogy experts have studied and applied the success of the “prime time concept” to classroom teaching. In the Notre Dame Catechist Academy, we have extended those insights to the task of catechesis.

In this piece, we explore how catechesis invites us to look at our fundamental identity as disciples, and how we train our catechists to grow in that identity using prayer in catechetical “prime time.” We have realized that prayer is the essential foundation that helps our students grow into disciples – both in the classroom and in the world.

The Concept of Prime Time

Like advertising, classroom prime time refers to the periods when the most students are paying attention and their capacity for retention is highest (normally at the beginning and end of each class session). Ideally, this is the time for teachers to share the day’s most important concepts. Catechesis, while seeking to make use of the “prime time concept,” differs from advertising and normal classroom prime time in that it moves beyond mere concept acquisition. St. John Paul addresses this in his Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae, where he writes that “the primary and essential object of catechesis is…the mystery of Christ” (5).

Since our goal is to direct students toward mystery, catechetical prime time cannot (and does not) focus merely on a rote rehearsal of important concepts.

The Role of Mystery

St. John Paul II does not use mystery here in the normal sense of the word, that is, to refer to something that cannot (and maybe will not) be known.

Rather, he invites us to think of God as a being so “other” that we cannot think of him in terms of concepts that can traditionally be mastered or comprehended like 2 + 2 = 4 or a² +b² = c². Rather, when referring to the mystery of Christ in catechesis, St. John Paul II seems to be directing us to consider God as someone who can be “infinitely known” rather than “not known” at all.

To put it bluntly, seeking to know God does not end in a formula. It ends in discipleship.

The Model of Discipleship for Catechist Formation

In the Incarnation, Christ reveals himself to us as a human person. The truth of the fact that God comes to us as a human person demands different catechetical formation.

Let me illustrate this by means of example. No matter how well we might know another person  (our friends and family, for example), that person will always remain a mystery in some way to us. Try as we might, we will never be able to understand that person completely or know how that person will act in every given situation. Does that mean we turn away from our friends and family? No. People are not concepts to master. We would never say that we have “mastered” our friend John or our sister Stacey.

Proper catechetical formation in light of the mystery of Christ should follow in the same way, and the relationship between Jesus and his disciples can serve as a good example. Even though the disciples did not understand Jesus and his teachings all the time, they continued to walk with him. In walking with him, they gained strength for their own journey of faith.

As catechists, then, a relationship with the mystery of Christ looks like the journey of discipleship. Like those early Christians, we too should continue to place ourselves in Christ’s presence so that we can be open to the ways that we can grow in relationship and knowledge of him for our own journeys of faith.

St. John Paul II puts it this way, again in Catechesi Tradendae:

“The definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ” (5).

In this way, we do not proclaim or merely rehearse a laundry list of Christ’s important qualities as we form our catechists in the Catechist Academy. Rather, we continue to invite them to grow as disciples, constantly inviting them deeper into intimacy with Christ, to probe the depths of his mystery in their lives and the life of the world.

Prayer in Prime Time

In the Catechist Academy, we turn to prayer most frequently as we invite catechists deeper into this life of discipleship. Pope Benedict XVI addresses the implications of this relationship during a General Audience address in 2011: “The main objective of prayer is conversion: the fire of God which transforms our hearts and makes us capable of seeing God and living for Him and for others.”

In the Catechist Academy, then, we follow this lead. Since prayer allows us to so consciously place ourselves in the midst of the presence and mystery of God, it is the focus of our catechetical prime time. We use intentions and Lectio Divina at the beginning and end of each class to help our students become more “capable of seeing God.” By meditating on the scriptures and inviting their deeper meaning into their lives, our catechists become more capable of speaking Christ’s truths not only in their classrooms, but as disciples in their everyday lives.

Without prayer, conversion toward discipleship becomes more difficult. If catechists don’t invite God’s truth into their hearts, they close themselves off from hearing the ways he wishes to use them to become disciples and to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19).

For all of us too, making time for prayer not only gives us the time to share our joys and concerns with God, but the opportunity to hear his voice speaking back to us. When we can most fully hear his Word, we can then be more capacitated to act upon it (c.f. James 1:22).

In the Catechist Academy, prayer will continue to be the foundation of our pedagogy and our prime time. We have seen that a renewed focus on prayer will serve not only as the foundation for better catechesis, but for discipleship. When our catechists are better able to hear the echoes of God’s Revelation in their hearts, they are better able to respond as disciples, forming their students and themselves to be better citizens of heaven.

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.

 

Plenitude of Reality

Renee RodenRenée Roden

AmeriCorps Volunteer

 

 

Indeed apostolic preaching with all its boldness, and passion would be unthinkable unless the witnesses had experienced a real encounter, coming to them from outside, with something entirely new and unforeseen. Only a real event of a radically new quality could possibly have given rise to the apostolic preaching, which cannot be explained on the basis of speculations or inner mystical experiences. In all its boldness and originality, it draws life from the impact of an event no one had invented, an event that surpassed all that could be imagined. (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, pg. 275)

Recently, I was leading a group of seniors at our high school in a discussion of Fr. Jim Martin’s “Six Paths to God”, detailed in his The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. After briefly recapping what we had discussed the day before, the students’ assignment was for each of them to identify which path they were on, and to journal for several minutes about said path. Suddenly, I had a revolt on my hands.

From all corners of the room, complaints were volleyed at me: Ms. Roden, Ms. Roooodeeeennnnn, why do we have to do this? One student’s voice rose above the throng, protesting that this course was supposed to be a chance for the students to reflect on their own lives, and was not supposed to be “just another religion class.” According to my student, religion had absolutely no application to their story whatsoever, and it was an oppressive waste of their time to make them reflect on religion at all. “And I’m not the only one that thinks that; I’m just the only one that’s saying.”

In the (surprisingly fruitful) discussion that ensued, I found that my students’ attitude towards religion shed some light on my own attitude towards Resurrection.

In daily speech, I often find myself using the death and Resurrection DeathandResurrectionof Christ as symbols of sorts. “Death and Resurrection” is a template for our spiritual lives, it provides a lens through which to view the failures and triumphs of our lives. We see the pattern of death and resurrection stamped into the natural world all around us. They are a mystic blueprint through which I can understand my own story.

This is, perhaps, why the Paschal Triduum is so moving. Because they are not about the pattern of Death and Resurrection, but they are about a death of one man. The focus of the Triduum liturgies is the actual moment in history when Jesus was crucified. During this time, we address the fact that this story happened, to a particular person who was not us, in a particular moment that is not now. So, in this sense, my students are correct: this is a story that is not theirs. It is a concrete reality outside of their own experience.

The Triduum begins with this particularity: with the stories of the Passover meal, and then the horrible tragedy of crucifixion. These are images we can understand, we can grasp. We know what it is to share a meal with a community, we can watch a re-enactment of the Christ being scourged; we have all seen men and women in pain; we look at images of Jesus of Nazareth nailed to the cross every single day. These are images within the boundaries of our imagination.

When the Easter Vigil mass begins, however, we have entered a more mysterious realm. The Resurrection eludes the grasp of our comprehension; its relationship to history is not as simple as Jesus’ life and death. Pope Benedict XVI describes the Resurrection:

As something that breaks out of history and transcends it, the Resurrection nevertheless had its origin in history, and, up to a point, still belongs there. Perhaps we could put it this way: Jesus’ Resurrection points beyond history, but has left a footprint in history. Therefore, it can be attested by witnesses as an event of an entirely new  kind. (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, pg. 275)

What exactly is this event?

The Gospel narratives of the Resurrection indicate the novelty and mystery of this moment: the Resurrected Christ eats fish and breaks bread with them, and still bears the wounds of the Cross, yet He also walks through closed doors, and even His dearest friends and closest companions fail to recognize Him.

The Resurrection was not just a human being “coming back” from the dead, but a human being moving forward, past this life, past the end of this life, into a new life with God, as Sam Bellafiore touched upon in his article on Resurrection and Harry Potter: Resurrection means moving forward into new life, not just the old life returning. Benedict XVI describes it as an “ontological leap.” The Resurrection impacted the world in a way that Lazarus’ return to life did not. For Lazarus would die once again, but Christ will die no more.

This is an event beyond the realm of our imagination. I can picture the crucifixion, I am moved by the images that present themselves of the Suffering Servant. But images of the Resurrection lack that pathos, and they somehow fail to capture the glory of what it means to be a risen man–one who will die no more, who has passed to whatever lies on the other side of death. This new leap into the future, a new mode of being with God; a new mode of being alive baffles our imaginations.

ResurrectionBut, the Resurrection was not just a moment of glory for Christ alone. It is truly God’s triumph of love for the entire human race. God submitted to the bonds of death, which the human race imposed on each member through sin. But, through His love for us that feared no death, He broke a barrier, and opened a new way of being, of union with God. The mechanics of the Resurrection defeats my imagination and intellect, and I imagine it did the Apostles as well, but the potency of the event occurring has not diminished, even til today.

We are, most of us, all too familiar with the words of Paul that sprinkle the Easter liturgies: If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again. (Romans 6:8-9) And too often, I think of these words as a vague promise of life after death. The Resurrection of my own self seems to be in the future. But that is not what Paul is saying. He is proclaiming to the New Church that the lives they are living right now are transformed by Christ’s Resurrection. We, too, can live in this ontological leap forward, in this new union with God.

The entire world has been transformed, now that this new mode of being has opened up, now that Christ has opened up this life with God, all of us are invited into it here and now. The Apostles were essential in spreading not only the good news of Christ’s Resurrection, but in spreading, in fact, the Resurrection. Their role in the Resurrection is essential and irreplaceable. And so, too, is ours. Apostolic teaching in all its vigor was driven by their knowledge that the Resurrection, by necessity, has remade the whole world. It is not just that Christ’s Resurrection makes us impervious to death after death, it is that Christ’s Resurrection opens up to us a way of being that is Resurrection.

The entire point of Christ’s death and Resurrection is that so we might have life, and have it in abundance (John 10:10) right now. The Resurrection is not simply a prophecy of what we may inherit after death; it is an event that has drastically shaken the core of human existence.

Thus, as I suggested to my students, perhaps the stories outside of our own can shed light on the narrative of our lives. And, if we give these stories a chance, we may be shocked to discover that they are an essential part of our own story. The story of the Resurrection has a starting point: the third day, when Christ left behind an empty tomb, but there is no ending. We are living in the story right now. Each day, we are living in the Resurrection, and the Resurrection requires our participation, because the Messiah suffered these things so that not just he, but we, might enter into His glory (Luke 24:26).

Stronger than Death: The Hope of All Souls Day

Leonard DeLorenzo

Director, Notre Dame Vision

Doctoral Student, Systematic Theology, University of Notre Dame

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I once had a very dissatisfying experience at a funeral.  While I do not consider myself the sort of person who typically seeks satisfaction at funerals, what was lacking in this one made me intuitively aware of what I desired by contrast.

I had just seen my grandfather a few weeks prior to his death.  He was in the hospital and, in accordance with the directives of his living will, the feeding tubes had been removed.  He was unable to speak and mostly unable to move, but it was clear that he knew when my brother and I walked into the room.  I was the last one to leave his hospital room that night, staying behind to say goodbye and to whisper a prayer over him, tracing the Sign of the Cross on his forehead.  It was the first time I had ever prayed with (or over) Louis DeLorenzo.

Upon his death on April 20, my wife and I made arrangements to fly out to New Jersey two days later for the funeral that weekend.  With the rest of my family already in town, I was the last to arrive and, by that time, all the arrangements were in place.  There was nothing for me to do but show up at the funeral parlor and walk into a predictably hideously wallpapered room filled with Italian-Americans from such diverse places as northern New Jersey and southern New York.

When it was time for the service to begin, a very pleasant older gentleman stood up in the front with a Bible in hand.  When my aunt had called the Catholic parish in town to inquire about a funeral for my grandfather, she apparently met some resistance because he had not been an active parishioner.  Rather than push in any way, she hung up the phone and called the people at the funeral home, who offered to find another minister to lead the service there.

He began with a reading from Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I lack. In green pastures he makes me lie down; to still waters he leads me; he restores my soul…

At the end of the Psalm, he closed his Bible and shared a little bit about Lou DeLorenzo.  Having never met him personally, he recited the facts: he had been a Nutley firefighter for 37 years while also working as a carpenter.  He married Dorothy in 1946 and they raised their two children—Nora and Leonard—in Nutley before moving to Chadwick Beach and retiring in Palm Harbor, Florida.  They had four grandchildren.  Lou liked to fish and loved to golf.  This final bit of biographical information provided the launching point for the short sermon:

“And now Lou is in those green pastures we heard about in our reading.  His green pastures are beautiful fairways and perfect greens, where every putt goes in.”

The genial minister went on for a minute longer, saying much of the same—that Lou was now looking down on us between holes, smiling the whole time.  He closed with a brief prayer, and that was that.

Recalling this event now, it seems somewhat peaceful, even quaint.  I still, however, feel much of the same sensation now as I did then: at one and the same time I want to both scream and plead.  Have we really acknowledged the fact that this man—my granddaddy—has died?  What hope do we have for him?  Is it really just fairways and greens that he has to look forward to?  Is that what we want for him?  Is that who he was?

This minister meant no harm.  Furthermore, I am not sure how many of the people in that room accepted this as a fitting end to Louis DeLorenzo’s life, or how many felt like I did that there was a significant deficiency in what we had just experienced.  To my ears, my grandfather was represented as a thin caricature of himself, sent forth as a glossed-over figure for whom we were not beckoned to pray and on behalf of whom we were not trusted to hope.  He seemed to have just breezily slipped away to another place, as if this life had been but a dream.

From my vantage point now—some seven years later—I am can better discern what exactly was so dissatisfying about that late April funeral service:

  • First, the well-intentioned minister disregarded the most obvious, unavoidable fact of the whole engagement: Louis DeLorenzo had just died.  He died.  He was dead, not golfing. |
  • Second, we were left without a challenge to hope.  I cannot speak for the other people in that room, but I know that I still feel this oversight even now.  It might have been precisely because we were collectively ignoring the fact that he was really dead that the real necessity of hope was not revealed.
  • Third, the picture we were invited to take up—albeit based off of Psalm 23—did not lead us to cling to the Body of Christ.  The brief sermon felt like one of those times when you are told that what you have lost, or the job you did not get, or the relationship that just ended was not all that terrible of a thing to lose anyway.  It is tempting to try to believe that, but the fact of the matter is that the loss is real, it does hurt, and it actually was important.  In this case, my grandfather was important and his loss was real.  What I was most deeply looking for that day—along with others that gathered in that room—was something real to cling to, not pious wishes.

I have been to other funerals and memorial services since my grandfather’s, and some of these have resembled his in one way or another.  Even so, my grandfather’s still strikes me raw to this day because the dissatisfaction was so keen, while the desire for hope and prayer was so great.

I think this desire requires some examination.  What was I looking for?  What was missing?  As I ponder my desire, the three missing dimensions enumerated above—lacks that gave me such deep dissatisfaction—need to be explored in further detail: the seriousness of death, the significance of hope, and the silence of Christ.  It is all too appropriate to make this attempt now, as the Church once again turns in prayer to God for the souls of all the faithful departed.

The Seriousness of Death
I looked at death with my grandfather once before his own death, five years earlier.  It was the first and only time I saw him cry.  Our family gathered at another funeral parlor, this time in Florida, to view my grandmother’s body for the last time before cremation.  My youngest cousin and I at first refused to go in to the room to see her body lying in the cardboard coffin (she was frugal to the end!).  I didn’t want to see her because I thought it wasn’t her.  But it was.  She was dead.  She both was and was not her body.  Whatever and whoever she was, she died.  There lay the body of the woman we knew and loved, the woman who knew and loved us.  Her body was the remnant of the life she had lived with and among us, but that life was now silent.

When I walked outside of the mortuary on a characteristically warm and rainy afternoon, I found my grandfather standing there by himself.  He had just kissed the forehead of the woman who had been his wife for more than 50 years.  He was sobbing.  The proudest, most stubborn, most old-school man I have ever known was crying like a child in the rain.  He had just confronted the utter end of life in the person he loved most.  I put my arm around my uncharacteristically vulnerable grandfather and I felt his loss.  Even at the end of a long and loving life, that loss was a tragedy.

My grandfather lived five years after his wife’s death, but his life was never the same.  A good part of him died when his lips touched her lifeless forehead that last time.  My father told me that he sometimes heard him crying softly in his bed at night.  There was a hole in his life that neither pious thoughts nor shimmering wishes could fill.  I am not sure that hole was meant to be filled.

As far as I know, my grandfather never attempted to explain where his beloved went after death.  It would have certainly been comforting to imagine her having slipped out of the confines of this life into a better, happier place.  The thought of her immediate bliss may have been a consolation to his grieving heart.  There was a certain discipline and authenticity to the way he thought about her after death.  Instead of trying to make her right for his own sake, he allowed himself to be wounded for love of her.  He had been tied to her so deeply for so long that he couldn’t replace her with a thought or a wish about where or how she was now.  Her life had been too important for that—she had been too important to him.  It is not that he somehow failed to accept her death, but rather that he refused to allow her death to be any less serious than it really was.  She was gone and that made a difference to him.

The Significance of Hope
It is hard, if not impossible, to give an account of exactly how someone has affected you.  Not only am I unable to explain what my grandmother meant to my grandfather, but it is also difficult for me to explain what she meant to me.  If I sat still long enough, I could conjure up countless memories of her: some that would cause me to chuckle, others that would frustrate me, others still that would perhaps leave me with tinges of regret, and many that would fill me with gratitude.  Of all those memories, though, I find it curious which memory usually comes to mind first.

What I remember first about my grandmother—in a vivid snapshot memory—is her sitting at the kitchen table in the slowly intensifying light of the early morning.  The house is silent.  Her elbow is resting on the table, one hand pinching the skin above her brow, the other fingering a rosary dangling near her knees.  Her eyes are closed tight and she has the look of intense, almost painful concentration on her face while her lips mutter prayers into the stillness of the morning.  I can’t remember if I only saw this scene once or if it occurred multiple times for my viewing, but nevertheless, this is the first thing I usually remember about her.  Something of what she meant to me is wrapped up in that memory, though I cannot wrap my mind around that meaning.

I do not have that memory of faith for my grandfather.  I tend to remember his childlike laugh when he teased my little brother, whom he loved with a special kind of devotion.  I remember his voice rising above its normal volume to correct or to command.  I remember the picture of him clad in an orange hunting suit, smiling next to the carcass of the deer he strung up at the end of the day.  He never came to Mass with us when I visited my grandparents for weeks and weeks every summer when I was younger. I cannot recall a time when I saw him pray.  He was relentlessly disciplined and principled, though he certainly was not what one would recognize as a person of faith.

I loved both of my grandparents, and because of that love I feel their loss even today.  I do not feel that loss as greatly or regularly as I should, but I do feel it.  My love for them also springs forward in hope.  Even though they are no longer here with me, I still strangely want what is good for them.  I want them to live in some way even though they have died and I feel their death.

The difference between them for me, though, is that I don’t have the same kind of memory of my grandfather that I have of my grandmother: a memory that can anchor my hope.  When I return to my faith and seek to entrust my grandmother to the love of God, I can move from what I myself have seen toward what I imagine God sees when he looks at her, even now.  I can hope that God’s first memory of grandma is something like my own—or that mine is something like God’s, as it were.  I hope that He sees her sitting at the table in the early morning, moving beads between her fingers, praying alone before the tasks of the day.  Maybe that is who she truly was, beneath all the other memories.

For my grandfather, I just don’t know what I hope that God sees.  Does He see the delight of that childlike laugh?  Does He hear that voice ascending over the humdrum of home-life?  Does He rejoice at a successful hunt?  What I do know is that it is against the darkness and unknowing of death that I search for hope in place of hope that my grandfather lives anew in the God in whom I seek to entrust my own life.  The man whom I last saw fading into death when the feeding tubes had been removed in that lightly lit, modestly comfortable hospital room more than seven years ago is the same man whom I know entered into the abyss of death and was no more.  Into that abyss, I cast my hope—inchoate as my hope may be.  Perhaps this is the deepest essence of hope: to believe without assurance, without any fully explicable reason, that life may be called out of loss.

The Silence of Christ    
It can certainly feel as if hope of this sort goes out into nothing but empty space.  I have yet to receive a vision like St. Perpetua’s of my loved one’s thirst finally slaked.  There seems to be no response to my hope, and yet still I hope.  To whom does this hope go?  Who receives it in the silence?

There is no answer, only faith.  By faith, I place my trust beyond any and all explanation into the hands of the one whom I believe—at the core of my being—came down from heaven and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.  I have based my life on the belief that He who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried is the same Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages.  I am gripped by the belief that this One—the Son of God, the love of the Father come down to us—came down so far that He descended into hell.  In that shadowy place of death, in the stillness following the Cross, in that tomb sealed and guarded, with all the isolated souls of those who live no more, the Lord Jesus receives the hope that leads me to pray for my grandfather.  My hope does go out into the silence, but by faith I believe that the Word of Life assumes the silence and makes it His own.  In Him, I hope.

My hope for my grandfather is not just a hope for him, but a hope for all of us.  I hope that no matter how unworthy he or I or any of us may be, no matter how negligible our faith may become, the descending Love of God will reach us and lead us out of the grave.  I hope that the Lord, the giver of life will seal our one baptism for the forgiveness of sins forming us into one communion of saints unto the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.   My hope is that, in the end, my life doesn’t stop with me, that my grandfather’s life didn’t stop with him.  Somehow, mysteriously, our lives were joined together when I was born into his family, and especially when I passed through the waters into which he had previously been baptized.  I hope that even now, when I remain and he has gone, that the life that we shared can be made stronger than that which seems to separate us: the chasm of death.

The Body of Christ         
Part of the reason I was so dissatisfied at my grandfather’s funeral is because in a non-egotistical way, that funeral was about me, too.  It was about what I hope makes me who I am: the efficacy of my baptism, the nourishment of the Eucharist, the seal of my confirmation, the healing of each confession, the bond of my marriage.  It is the hope that I am mystically living in the Body of Christ.  That is, ultimately, what I hope for my grandfather, too.  It is also what I hope my grandmother was expressing in the early morning at the kitchen table.  It is what I hope my father accepted when he went to 6:30am Mass every weekday morning as he was raising two young boys by himself.  It is what I hope my dearest friends have professed in their vows before the altar, and what I hope we have all plunged our children into at our parishes’ baptismal founts.  This is my hope—it is the hope of all the Church—that all the faithful departed live in his Body forever.  It is the hope of All Souls Day, a hope that is stronger than death.

More and more, the memory that recurs when I think of my grandfather is of our last moment together in that hospital room.  Part of me is still surprised that I had the audacity to trace the Sign of the Cross on his forehead and pray over him.  Perhaps the meaning of who he was to me is mysteriously wrapped up in that memory, even though I can’t quite grasp what that meaning is.  It is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3).

Note: This author has another reflection entitled “What Saints Sound Likeposted earlier this week on the Notre Dame Vision blog, Full of Grace.

Put On Superman: Baptism and Halloween

Isaac Garcia

Director of Religious Education

St. Mark’s Catholic Church, Vienna, VA

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This article originally appeared on St. Mark’s blog for religious education.  

At the end of October, children across the country venture out into neighborhoods donning Superhero attire, Angel outfits, and all other sorts of costumes.  As a child I always looked forward to Halloween, the day I would march around in my homemade Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles costume (as Donatello, of course) and walk from door to door trick-or-treating.  A funny thing would happen when I wore this costume — I changed.  While in costume, everyone expected me to take on the persona and the behavior of Donatello and I happily obliged with “Cowabungas”, “Dudes”, and attempts at athletic jump kicks.  I had put on Donatello and the outside changed my very thoughts, words and actions.  I was a “little Donatello” for a night, realizing a lifelong dream of being a “hero in a half-shell.”

In baptism, we hope for a similar transformation.

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Paul writes, “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Gal 3:27).  Symbolized with a white garment, the newly baptized are clothed with Christ.  Unlike the Donatello outfit, when we “put on” Christ, it is once for all.  He does not come off.  We never dry off from our baptism.  Instead, we are continually challenged and strengthened by the Sacrament to take on the very persona and behavior of Jesus Christ.  Like the Donatello costume, what happens on the outside is meant to change our very thoughts, words and actions.  The goal, then, of putting on Christ is for the inside to match the outside, so that our very identity becomes who we outwardly claim to be in baptism.  For those of us who were baptized as babies, we spend our entire Christian lives trying to grow into the infant-sized baptismal garment.  We strain to join our voices with Paul’s in proclaiming that “it is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

We return to the image of the “little Donatello.”  After the shell came off the effects quickly withered away.  Once the costume was boxed up for the year, once there was no big event to look forward to, I forgot about the whole thing.  With no continual reinforcement, I returned back to my usually quiet six-year-old self.

This too is a danger for us all — forgetting our new identity in baptism.  “Every Christian is to become a little Christ,” C.S. Lewis writes.  “The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”  We are continually challenged to appropriate our identity as “little Christs”, to grow in faith, hope, and love.  This becomes especially difficult when there is no big “faith event” on the horizon to look forward to.  In a world that pulls us in a million different directions at once, we need constant reminders and help to be “little Christs”; we need the parish community and our family to ensure we notice and live into our baptismal clothes.  We both support and challenge each other to be who we claim to be in baptism.

This Halloween, as we see the “little superheroes”, “little angels”, and “little monsters” parading from house to house, may they serve as a reminder to baptism.  May the automatic taking on of personalities by the trick-or-treaters inspire us to take on the personality of Christ.  And may we support each other in our journey, no matter where we are in our faith.

 

Do This in Memory of Me: Teaching Liturgy in High School

Eric Buell

Head of the Department of Religious Studies

Director of the Liturgical Band

Presentation High School, San Jose, CA

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There is a wonderful scene in the movie Hook where an adult Peter Pan sits down for dinner after a long day of trying to relearn how to fly, crow, and swordfight.  The table is set and the steam rises from all of the dishes as the Lost Boys gather around for the big feast (envision a new age Babette’s Feast with Robin Williams).  When the covers on the food are removed, despite the steam and aroma – there is nothing there.  The disappointment on Peter’s face is palpable.

As I walk through the halls of the high school where I work, I notice every morning the plethora of photos that are attached to the lockers of students.  It is apparent that these young women record every significant moment in their life and then look back on it immediately to reminisce about the good times.  This experience is helped by the availability of digital cameras and smart phones that allow us immediate access to our memories.  I recently played off of this idea in class when I asked my students to recall their favorite experiences and remember those experiences by trying to bring to mind any sights, smells, sounds, tastes, or touches that accompanied the experience.

The point of this exercise was to engage students in a moment of anamnesis, the deepest way to remember an event even to the point of making it real again.  I described an experience I once had of getting sick from eating too many Fruity Pebbles as a child.  My parents had left me in the charge of my twelve year old brother who had no interest in feeding me breakfast.  I took it upon my five year old self to consume an entire box of this multi-colored sugar-coated puffed rice.  The results were tragic.  But even to this day, every time I smell or taste a box of this cereal I get a feeling of nausea.  I have encountered this re-living in many other food-borne ways:  the smell of a roasting Turkey at Nana’s house for Thanksgiving or the taste of chocolate chip cookies on a hot summer day after swimming in a pool for hours.  When we remember these experiences we do not only recall something true about ourselves but in a way relive the moment.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0X3r0YJtQeQ

And so there Peter sat in front of a table full of empty bowls while everyone around him was eating.  The kids looked at him wondering why he did not enjoy the feast.  Exasperated but willing to try what the kids were saying, Peter Pan had to remember who he truly was before he could join in the feast.  Once recalled, the food came alive and he could now participate fully in the meal.

This is the same type of memory that Jesus demands: to do this in memory of me.  It is a memory to relive your baptism, your own participation in the Paschal Mystery.  It brings to the front our true baptized selves.  The ‘this’ and the ‘in memory’ are pretty straight forward.  I take comfort in the letters of St. Paul and the Didache when episodes of Eucharistic memorial were occurring in its earliest stages.  The framework for Eucharistic celebration in the Gospels and these other writings is the cornerstone of our Tradition.  Without the Eucharist, the question of Catholic self identity is bizarre and unanswerable.

It would be unfortunate to gloss over the word ‘do’ in Jesus’ command.  It is our responsibility as catechists, liturgists, and clergy ‘to do’ an engaging celebration of liturgy.  Jesus did not recline at the Last Supper and say “do not worry about doing anything while you remember, I will take care of it.”  It is not God’s action and our reception, it is our collective action.  The framework for collective liturgical action is provided in the rite, but as a teacher, I would never go into the class with a framework that someone else had provided me and not try to make the material applicable or to not try and engage the people who are sitting before me.  Over the past two years I have heard and read multiple sermons and articles stressing the point that the Mass is not entertainment.  I agree.  However, I sit in the pew wondering if this point is a clouded attempt at an excuse for falling attendance, poorly rehearsed music, or unintelligible sermons.  The point is accepted and fairly obvious that those looking for entertainment should not choose Mass as their primary outlet, but that should not push us to strive for a celebration or memorial that is boring.  Who remembers that which bores them?

The point of all of this Peter Pan babble and memory stories is engagement.  People who continue to attend Church need to be engaged, most importantly our students in high school during school liturgy because for a good portion of the school, these are the only experiences of liturgy they will ever have.  The four years in Catholic school are perhaps the one chance the Church has to engage teenagers in the foundational identifying mark of a Catholic.  This means putting effort into crafting meaningful and engaging moments that these young people can delve deeper into, we need to craft an intimate anamnesis moment so the memories our students are taking away from the Church are not ones of boredom and meaningless motions or a cacophony of noise and extravagance that can overrun teen-centered liturgies.  The best way to teach liturgy to high school students mirrors the best practices of teaching anyone about liturgy.  The one thing we all have in common is a desire to be understood, to be welcomed, and to craft meaningful memories for their lives.  This is the responsibility of the priest to craft a sermon that actually speaks to a fifteen year old girl.  It is the task of the musician to seek out and practice music that can be sung and expressed by people who have no understanding of music.  It is our task to not turn off or zone out during Mass.

These things do not need to happen to make liturgy work.  But it is our work to make liturgy happen, and if each liturgy is not our best effort to engage the true spirit of this memorial, than the memories we are leaving in the hearts of our young people will soon be forgotten.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xclT3hXXdpc