Tag Archives: Pope Francis

Stop ‘checking boxes,’ and become Christ

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck, Managing Editor

MTS Candidate, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

A recent survey asked 1,016 of the some 81 million self-identified U.S. Catholics about what is “essential” to their personal sense of “being Catholic.” According to Deseret News:

* 68 percent cited “having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ” as essential. * 67 percent: Belief in Jesus’ actual resurrection from the dead. * 62 percent: Working to help the poor and needy. * 54 percent: Devotion to Mary as the virgin Mother of God. * 54 percent: Receiving the sacraments. * 42 percent: Being part of a Catholic parish. * 41 percent: Being open to having children. * 34 percent: Celebrating feast days or festivals that are part of your national or ethnic heritage. * 33 percent: Opposing abortion. * 29 percent: Working to address climate change.

As noted in the above study, 67 percent of Catholics identified “belief in Jesus’ actual resurrection from the dead” as essential to Catholic identity. 62 percent cited “working to help the poor and needy.” 54 percent regarded “devotion to Mary as the virgin Mother of God” a crucial indicator of Catholic-ness, while 54 percent upheld “receiving the sacraments” and 42 percent “being part of a Catholic parish.”This struggle with the question of identity is not a new phenomenon – at least not in American life. Are Catholics to be identified by ritual, namely, going to Mass on Sunday and praying certain “official” prayers? Are they united by ideology and belief, such as their positions on abortion, birth control, gay marriage, and the teachings of the Magisterium? Are Catholics bound institutionally, through cooperation with the visible, hierarchical Church: the pope, bishops, priests, etc.?

Consensus on how to define a “Catholic” cannot even be found among historians of American Catholicism, who often disagree in how to conceptually define “Catholics” and “Catholicism.” This has resulted in studies that diverge quite sharply in their criteria as to who and what should be included in fundamental definitions of “Catholicism.”

We are invited to consider this question again in the midst of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. Perhaps more than any of his predecessors, this Holy Father seems to consistently elude our usual categories when we try to measure his words and actions against typical markers of Catholic-ness: Is he “too Catholic,” insisting on the preservation of the sanctity of marriage and the protection of persecuted Christians in the Middle East? Or is he “not Catholic enough,” in the attention he draws to environmental issues and the need to create asylums for the homeless and the refugee?

We can debate and split hairs ad nauseam over which doctrines, practices and beliefs are most essential to Catholic identity, or which political adherences most fundamentally align with being “Catholic.” We can even discuss to what extent there may be varying degrees of “Catholic.” But I am struck that in all of this discussion one crucial, fundamental requirement seems to be consistently left unexamined: namely, being a Christian. When was the last time we have stopped pointing fingers and appraising the actions of others long enough to pause and ask ourselves: what does it mean to be a Christian?

For Blessed Basil Moreau, the answer is simple:

“to be called a Christian is to be called a faithful follower of Jesus Christ” (Basil Moreau, Essential Writings, Gawrych and Grove, C.S.C. (eds.), 216).

“Unless you imitate Jesus Christ,” Moreau writes in his Spiritual Exercises, “you cannot truly be a Christian” (ibid.). This imitation, a human response to a divine invitation, is a fundamental obligation of the Christian and the purpose of the Incarnation:

“Was that not his reason for wanting to go through all stages of human life: to be born, to live, to suffer, and to die just like all the children of Adam?” (ibid., 215-216)

You may be reading this thinking, “Yes, obviously Catholics are Christians and as a Christian I am called to be like Christ.” Wrong. To be Christ-like is not enough. We are to be Christ: to become transfigured into him. This is what St. Paul means, as Father Moreau points out, when he writes that through Baptism we are transformed into Jesus Christ and become one with him (Romans 6.3-5; 1 Corinthians 12.12-13). Or as Moreau puts it, “The holiness of the head needs to radiate also from all the members of the body” (Essential Writings, 217).  How often does this theological distinction enter public discourse?

Before anything else, the goal of a Christian – and therefore of a Catholic – is to be Christ no less than the way that both branches and trunk form one and the same tree: to be “kept in place by the same roots,” and “nourished by the same sap.”

So what, more than anything else, describes what it means to be a Catholic? Being Catholic means to be Christ: to clothe ourselves in his virtues and to labor every day in our chosen vocations to be able to say to the Evil One: “What are you looking for here, cruel beast? You will find nothing in me that belongs to you!” (Essential Writings, 220) The term “Catholic” is not a political category, but a metaphysical reality. It is an identity and calling that transcends checking off boxes.

Finally, such an obligation necessitates a reevaluation of our own lives in light of what we have now articulated to be the cornerstone of Catholic identity. Here, again, Moreau’s words are worth hearing, as they frame the discussion in its proper context:

Are your eyes as pure as his, your ears as chaste as his, your mouth as discreet as his, your gait as modest and unpretentious as his? Alas, what a contrast, perhaps, between the life of Jesus Christ and your own. What a great difference between his humility and your ambition, his warm love and your cold indifference, his courage and your weakness, his calmness and your outbursts of emotion, his virginal innocence and your unruly passions, his recollection and your distractions, the wisdom of his words and your excessive babbling! (218)

Inevitably, debates over Catholic identity will fly this week (and indeed have already begun to do so, as Elizabeth Scalia points out). But perhaps before immediately defaulting to polarization and the usual ‘tug-of-war’ over who’s really Catholic and who’s not, we can first take a page out of Moreau’s book and ask ourselves: am I another Christ? Is my life a living copy of this divine exemplar? Such an examen is the only real starting point for articulating what it means to be called “Catholic.”

If nothing else, perhaps those of us in the United States can learn from our Holy Father this week that our identity as Catholics is not reducible to checking boxes on a survey; rather, the most important marker of Catholic identity is a striving to imitate Christ at every juncture of our lives.

Pope Francis, Meet George F. Will

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

In a recent “opinion piece” (emphasis on opinion) in the Washington Post, George F. Will writes:

Francis’s fact-free flamboyance reduces him to a shepherd whose selectively reverent flock, genuflecting only at green altars, is tiny relative to the publicity it receives from media otherwise disdainful of his church. Secular people with anti-Catholic agendas drain his prestige, a dwindling asset, into promotion of policies inimical to the most vulnerable people and unrelated to what once was the papacy’s very different salvific mission.

He stands against modernity, rationality, science and, ultimately, the spontaneous creativity of open societies in which people and their desires are not problems but precious resources. Americans cannot simultaneously honor him and celebrate their nation’s premises.

Mr. Will, seemingly avoiding the work of both reading the writings of Pope Francis and using some semblance of reason, is entirely wrong about the way that most Catholics perceive the visit of Pope Francis to these shores. You see when the Pope visits the United States, he comes as the universal pastor of the Church. These moments are occasions for a kind of spiritual festivity among Catholics, who in fact, do not view Pope Francis as simply genuflecting to “green altars.” Rather, those of us active in our parishes are aware that he comes to speak to us as pastor of the Church, whose words are often difficult to hear because they accuse us of failing to love (we call this sin, Mr. Will). As John Cavadini has written in the New York Daily News:

Everyone tends to blank out the sayings that are uncomfortable to them, the conservatives believing that the warnings against trickle-down economics and his confidence in theories of global warming are outside the Pope’s competence, the liberals deciding that the Pope’s stance on life issues and issues of human sexuality are idiosyncratic holdovers from an anthropology outdated long ago. No harm, no foul, we can all take up only what leaves our comfort zone intact, and selectively use what we can to advance our own positions.

But most uncomfortable of all may well be Pope Francis’s conviction that these issues are all interrelated. That a culture which has learned to subordinate life to its own comfort zone will never have the moral courage to subordinate profit to human dignity, will never make the sacrifices necessary to reverse the spread of a “disposable” culture which not only exploits but excludes, which produces as a matter of routine human “leftovers,” the outcast, the “discarded,” used and then disposed of.

You see, Mr. Will is unable to listen to Pope Francis because he refuses to acknowledge the possibility that he (and in fact all of us) is in some way responsible for the dimming of truth, goodness, and love in the world. That the problem at the very origins of what it means to be human is the sin of idolatry, of adoring everything in the end but God. Mr. Will exhibits his own commitment to the art of idolatry, setting up his particular altar around some idealized view of the economy, of technological development, and science. That Pope Francis is not entirely optimistic about the modern world simply aligns him with decent Catholic theology, which recognizes that human beings can change. Which means that there is something about us that needs to be changed in the first place. It also aligns him with early American views of political life as recognizing the sin at the heart of being human. Fasting days were not reserved for Maryland Catholics; they were part of the political activity of that great Congregationalist bastion, Massachusetts. I suppose that both Jonathan Edwards and John Cotton equally cannot be honored, without compromising the premises of the United States.

Because the present Pontiff makes us uncomfortable in his preaching of the Gospel, there are those who like George F. Will are unable to listen to him. They do not want to participate in the process of self-examination, which the Holy Father calls us to in his preaching and his writing. The Pope’s visit to the United States, an apostolic visit of a pastor to his sheep, is intended to call us toward a deeper solidarity rooted in love of Jesus Christ, who is the Word made flesh. As Pope Francis himself writes in Laudato Si:

Moreover, when our hearts are authentically open to universal communion, this sense of fraternity excludes nothing and no one. It follows that our indifference or cruelty towards fellow creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings. We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people. Every act of cruelty towards any creature is “contrary to human dignity”. We can hardly consider ourselves to be fully loving if we disregard any aspect of reality: “Peace, justice and the preservation of creation are three absolutely interconnected themes, which cannot be separated and treated individually without once again falling into reductionism”. Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.

In reality, there will be many like Mr. Will, who will remain tone deaf to the invitation toward self-examination that this week (and the entire Pontificate of Pope Francis) promises. They may only hear part of what Pope Francis says, the part that they like. There are clergy and politicians and television commentators and journalists, who will seek to use the Pope’s visit for their own particular ends. This should not be surprising to those of us aware of the smallness of the human heart. Yet, there will also be those, hopefully including myself, who hear the Pope’s words as an invitation toward a more authentic form of love of God and neighbor alike.

In the end, perhaps it’s not the Pope who exhibits such fact-free flamboyance. Perhaps, it is Mr. Will himself, who refuses to look realistically upon the human condition, constructing for himself and his readers an economy and body politic without sin.

I’ll go with Pope Francis on this one.

The Mission of the Center for Liturgy

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

At the beginning of the academic year, the Center for Liturgy often finds itself in the midst of re-articulating the vision that animates our work. We are a Center at the heart of the University of Notre Dame’s Catholic mission; one that renews the Church through liturgical scholarship and education. We publish material on this blog and in a nationally recognized journal, we hold conferences and host guest lecturers, and we teach courses to undergraduates and graduate students at our University. In the coming months, we’ll be talking about an expansion in our summer offerings related to Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, working with Newman Centers, and more.

Yet, the articulation of a mission includes far more than the activity that we perform on a yearly basis. Over the last five years in which I have served as director of the Center for Liturgy, we have listened to those involved in liturgical and catechetical ministry in the Church. We have held conversations with undergraduates and graduate students about the state of liturgical education in the United States. We have met with other universities engaged in the mission of liturgical formation according to their own unique charism.

We have come to the conclusion that the liturgical renewal promised by the Second Vatican Council is, well, unfulfilled. Too often this unfulfilled vision becomes an occasion to blame others.

  • It is the fault of liturgists, who treated the rites as their own plaything.
  • It is the fault of catechists, who never really taught the fullness of what the liturgical and sacramental life consists of.
  • It is the fault of the hierarchy, who hold on at all costs to a clerical approach to liturgical celebration and formation.
  • It is the faulty of the laity, who seem too apathetic about their own liturgical vocation.

While such blame is often cathartic, offering an easy solution to the renewal of the liturgical life of the Church (get rid of those at fault), these blame games seem to ignore that the Second Vatican Council presented a vision of liturgical prayer as so important to the life of the Church that it should not be surprising that there is work that remains. Further, the very moment in which the Church recognized the liturgy as central to her identity was also the precise moment in which modern, secular approaches to being and knowing alike won out over theological accounts of what it means to be a human being in the world.
BlameThe problem with much liturgical renewal today is that it ignores the difficult task of liturgical formation. National liturgical gatherings continue to repeat the same tired phrases again and again, ignoring the fact that these phrases are often meaningless to the modern person. Full, conscious, and active participation is a desired goal. But, what about the fact that it seems more and more Catholics choose not to be present in the first place?

The Center for Liturgy, thus, believes that a renewal of liturgical formation is necessary under the rubric of the New Evangelization. That the goal of liturgical renewal is not ultimately oriented toward better liturgies alone (though this should also take place). Rather, it is to make possible an encounter with Jesus Christ through the liturgical rites; an encounter that ultimately transforms what it means to be human. The purpose of liturgical prayer is thus the formation of a way of life, a disposition of gratitude that is the source of meaning of human life. As Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium:

The disciple is ready to put his or her whole life on the line, even to accepting martyrdom, in bearing witness to Jesus Christ, yet the goal is not to make enemies but to see God’s word accepted and its capacity for liberation and renewal revealed. Finally an evangelizing community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always. It celebrates every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelization. Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy, as part of our daily concern to spread goodness. The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving (no. 24)

In other words, the mission of the Center for Liturgy is what one becomes through the practice of liturgical prayer; the kind of life that one lives through learning to praise and adore the living God.

The Center for Liturgy at Notre Dame is thus oriented toward creating educational opportunities that renew the Church in this way of life. There is something “lay” about our approach insofar as we see liturgical prayer less about who gets to do what during the liturgy; and more about the renewal of politics, culture, and family life.

For this reason, the Center for Liturgy focuses our undivided attention on the kind of imagination that the liturgy forms us in. The imagination is the human faculty that enables us to make meaning in the world. It allows us to see a simple activity as getting up in the middle of the night to care for a sick child as a Eucharistic offering. It is that faculty that forms us to see our work in the world as a similar offering. It is the faculty that transforms two people living together as married into an image of Christ’s self-giving love of the Church in the sacrament of marriage. Our educational programming is concerned about fostering this kind of imagination not simply through the liturgy but through the work of catechesis, of theological education, and a style of research that takes seriously the lay experience of liturgical prayer. Of the union between liturgy and politics, justice, spirituality, our relationship with the environment, ethics, vocation. Of discerning those cultural obstacles that make liturgical participation difficult in the modern world and then promoting the kind of “liturgical ecology” that holds up human life as gift.

This is the work that inspires us on a regular basis. It is the mission that will continue to infuse our programming. We are not a Center that plans on gathering people because they want to prepare for the new liturgical reform (or the reform of the reform of the reform). We see value in these conversations. But they are not ours.

Our mission, is taken directly from Pope Francis’ own address to theologians:

A theology – and not simply a pastoral theology – which is in dialogue with other sciences and human experiences is most important for our discernment on how best to bring the Gospel message to different cultural contexts and groups. The Church, in her commitment to evangelization, appreciates and encourages the charism of theologians and their scholarly efforts to advance dialogue with the world of cultures and sciences. I call on theologians to carry out this service as part of the Church’s saving mission. In doing so, however, they must always remember that the Church and theology exist to evangelize, and not be content with a desk-bound theology (no. 133).

Ours is not a desk-bound theology. It is a theology that seeks to renew the liturgical life of the Church so that the entire cosmos might experience the transformation of love made possible through the Christian vision of existence. We think this involves a renewal of preaching, of music, of aesthetics, of catechesis, and spirituality. This is the mission of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy moving toward into its fifth decade of existence.

We hope that you’ll join us in our work.

Conversion Toward Creation

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

Today is the first annual Day for the Prayer of Creation, inaugurated soon after Pope Francis released Laudato Si. In the letter inaugurating this day of prayer, in which we join together with Orthodox Christians throughout the world, Pope Francis writes:

As Christians we wish to contribute to resolving the ecological crisis which humanity is presently experiencing. In doing so, we must first rediscover in our own rich spiritual patrimony the deepest motivations for our concern for the care of creation. We need always to keep in mind that, for believers in Jesus Christ, the Word of God who became man for our sake, “the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them, in communion with all that surrounds us” (Laudato Si’, 216). The ecological crisis thus summons us to a profound spiritual conversion: Christians are called to “an ecological conversion whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them” (ibid., 217). For “living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (ibid.).

Pope Francis notes that this day will be one of conversion, of prayer, and of reflection upon humanity’s responsibility in creating ecologies of destruction rather than love. The genius of Laudato Si remains  its ability to locate our destruction of the created order in the sin that infects the human heart:

This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters (2).

This day, then, is not simply a Catholic equivalent to Earth Day per. Rather, it is an invitation for us to awaken to the conversion that is required if we are to live aright in the community of creation. We must look anew at our relationship with the entire created order, to see how our desire to grasp and own wounds the earth and the global human community alike. In the context of prayer, we must discern new habits that demonstrate our love for the created order anew.

These latter habits can be big and small. Some years ago, my wife and I received a Keurig from my parents. For years, I had grown accustomed to making a cup of coffee from that Keurig machine, aware of the destruction inflicted by those tiny plastic cups. But, it was so convenient. After reading Pope Francis’ encyclical this summer, we stopped using these plastic cups. We have begun to purchase coffee again and to use refillable K-Cups. Because of the “bad” habit that I had developed, the vice, this new practice was more difficult than it would seem. But, by developing a new habit, it has increased my own awareness of the cavalier way that I treat the created order as a whole.

In fact, it’s not just K-Cups that I have grown accustomed to using without thought. In fact, it is the entire created order that we have come to treat as something to be thrown-away. This day of prayer, of conversion, and repentance is an occasion to recommit ourselves to love all of creation, especially those in creation we find the hardest time to love. This is not an abstract exhortation but a day for us to set time to pray before the Blessed Sacrament and to discern concretely how we treat the environment and each other as disposable objects for our own delight rather than gifts that elicit divine praise.


Laudato Si, Guardini, and Liturgy

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

Pope Francis’ recent encylical Laudato Si on care for our common home has been analyzed by an array of media sources for its ecclesiological, political, and social-cultural insights. But, one thread that has not been entirely acknowledged is the  robust liturgical and sacramental vision that Pope Francis provides in the final chapter of the lengthy document, Ecological Education and Spirituality. If one does not attend to concrete ways that one can promote this vision, then of course, the encyclical remains nothing but words upon the page (or screen). Thus, in a series of articles, I hope to offer a liturgical commentary upon one section of the text, Sacramental Celebration and the Celebration of Rest.

EcologyYet, before doing this, I want to acknowledge the central liturgical and sacramental insight that guides the document as a whole. The text commences with St. Francis’ doxological exhortation to Christians everywhere to praise God for our Dear Sister Earth. Pope Francis notes that the ecological destruction affected by humanity is caused by a form of non-orthodoxy, non-right worship:

This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters (no. 2). 

The desecration of creation is the result of a sin that mistakes humanity as lord and master of the universe. We have forgotten our status as creatures made in the image and likeness of God, as those who are meant to receive before we participate in the activity of co-creation. And indeed, the heart of Laudato Si is an acute diagnosis of the problem of self-worship. As Pope Francis writes:

A spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable. That is how we end up worshipping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot. The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality (no. 75).

It is no accident that at the center of the document is Romano Guardini, the liturgical and cultural theologian par excellence. For Guaradini was acutely aware of liturgical prayer’s role in revealing to humanity our identity as creatures in need of reform in the midst of the modern world. That the laws of liturgical prayer could move us away from self-worship toward divine love.

EndofModernWorldIn his The End of the Modern World, Guardini discusses the dissolution of a liturgical and festive culture in the medieval period, which guided the sense of time and space for the human being:

Re-enacted year in year out in the liturgy of each and every church in Christendom, this symbolic rendering of time became the very rhythm of temporal life. Every event of life for a man or for his family–birth, marriage, death, labor and rest, the advent of the seasons, the passing of the weeks, the deeds of the day–each of the them breathed the rhythm of the ecclesiastical year. That rhythm had become one with the single moment and with the span of man’s life even to his last extremity (21).

LakeComoFor Guardini, the loss of this culture is not simply reclaimable. The cultural structures of knowing and being that once dominated the world have been replaced by both modern ways of being and knowing and now the dissolution of the modern age itself. Humanity no longer lives a time that is infused with the liturgical year, with a form of festivity that orients human life toward worsip. That being said, Guardini moves forward with an optimism that in this age, the human being can create a space for freedom and self-gift, which will move us away from self-worship and destructive approaches to power:

…it must be possible to tackle the task of mastering nature in a way that is appropriate, but also to find a new sphere of freedom for the soul, to give back true security to life, to achieve an attitude, a disposition, a new order of living, standards of what is excellent and what is despicable, of what is permissible and what is impermissible, of responsibility, of limits, etc., by which we can hold in check the danger of destruction presented by arbitrary natural forces (Romano Guardini, Letters from Lake Como, 84-85).

For Guardini, liturgical prayer is a concrete Christian practice that offers the kind of formation toward freedom of self-gift. Though it is impossible at present to analyze the entirety of his magisterial The Spirit of the Liturgy, this text describes how the practice of liturgical prayer can move the human being away from self-worship, toward a salutary use of power. That is, for Guardini, liturgical prayer is an enactment of a realistic vision of the human person, one that enables us to see creation for what it is:

In the liturgy the voice of Nature makes itself heard clearly and decisively. We only need to read the Psalms to see man as he really is. There the soul is shown as courageous and despondent, happy and sorrowful, full of noble intentions, but of sin and struggles as well, zealous for everything that is good and then again apathetic and dejected. Or let us take the readings from the Old Testament. How frankly human nature is revealed in them! There is no attempt at extenuation or excuse. The same thing applies to the Church’s words of ordination, and to the prayers used in administering the sacraments. A truly refreshing spontaneity characterizes them; they call things by their names. Man is full of weakness and error, and the liturgy acknowledges this. Human nature is inexplicable, a tangled web of splendor and misery, of greatness and baseness, and as such it appears in the prayer of the Church. Here we find no carefully adapted portrait from which the harsh and unpleasing traits have been excluded, but man as he is (The Spirit of the Liturgy, 32).

Thus, in some ways, one can read Laudato Si as an application of the liturgical and cultural thought of Guardini to the present environmental crisis. And, like Guardini, Pope Francis gives prominence of place to divine worship as essential to healing the human being; of re-creating a culture in which human beings are not masters of the universe but worshipers of God.

The implications of this kind of liturgical-ecological culture will be unfolding over the coming days through attending to Laudato Si’s Eucharistic vision.




Practicing Lent: The Formation of the Heart

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

Secular Institute of the Schoenstatt, Sisters of Mary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saving Communication

Danielle Zsupan-JeromeDaniella Zsupan-Jerome, Ph.D. 
Assistant Professor of Liturgy, Catechesis and Evangelization
Loyola Institute for Ministry,
Loyola University New Orleans
Author, Connected Toward Communion: The Church and Social Communication in the Digital Age (Liturgical Press, 2014)

On January 23rd, 2015, Pope Francis published the annual World Communications Day Message, a regular tradition of the Roman Catholic Church since 1967. These annual messages offer a brief reflection on some aspect of social communication today, and in terms of published Church documents on the topic, these have kept the conversation going and relevant since the most recent social communications document we have from 2002. I look forward to the Message each year—it is the Church’s opportunity to go in and go deep with a focused reflection, without the necessary background and overview required of a longer document. In our digital culture where short and sweet reigns, these messages, averaging 10–15 paragraphs each, are Church documents made palatable for our digital appetites.

This year’s Message joins in to the larger theme on the mind of the Church: the family. Bearing the title “Communicating the Family: A Privileged Place of Encounter with the Gift of Love,” Pope Francis draws us into the scene of the Visitation (Lk 1:39–56) to reflect on communication as it is learned and as it unfolds in the family. True to the style of these messages, Pope Francis goes in and goes deep—his thoughts about “the womb as the first school of communication, a place of listening and physical contact where we begin to familiarize ourselves with the outside world” are profound and will animate my spiritual reflection on this topic for a long time.

When it comes to the theology of communication, Roman Catholic thought relies significantly on the theology of revelation. We ponder how God has communicated Godself to humankind, and how that communication is offered in its fullest in the person of Jesus Christ. (Dei Verbum, §2). Christ is called the Perfect Communicator, elevating his words and actions, but also and more fundamentally highlighting the union of his divine and human natures as already a profound and intimate act of communication between God and humankind (Communio et Progressio, §11). From Christ, the Word made flesh, we also ponder the Spirit, who gives us the ability to speak (Acts 2:4) and we maintain a strong impetus for communication in the mission and evangelizing identity of the Church. And what is liturgy, if not the perfect language for us to continue to say who we are as Church? And what is service and ministry, if not the revelation of the Word made actual in faith?

Into this theological context on communication, Pope Francis invites two pregnant women embracing one another in such joy that makes infants in the womb leap. Reflecting on the first chapter of Luke— from the angel’s arrival to Mary’s song—profoundly enriches theological reflection on communication, and makes a strong case for communication as a central aspect of the story of salvation. As one of the first moments of the Christian story is a messenger of God’s Word bringing that Word to a young woman who offers her “yes” of hospitality to it, we may wonder if, on a most basic level, we are saved by communication. And if so, in what way does this saving communication speak to our digital culture today, where in many cases, communication needs actual saving? (See the cases of Brianna Wu, National Catholic Reporter, Amanda Hess, Justine Sacco for examples of communication and online harassment, verbal violence and public shaming.)

The fact that the Christian story begins with an act of communication is profound. We have an angel (literally “a messenger” or official carrier of the Word of God) coming to Mary with an active Word that is both heralded and made actual through her acceptance of it in faith. The angel heralds the Word as he explains God’s promise to Mary (“Behold, in your womb you shall conceive and bear a son. . .” and “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. . .”), but it is Mary who will become carrier of it, as her fiat opens her mind, heart, and body in hospitality to the Word and it becomes flesh within her. We praise Mary for her faithful fiat, but it is also an amazing lesson on communication: a posture of listening, openness, hospitality to the Word culminating in a life-giving response.

Visitation medieval
The Visitation by Master MS, 1506, Hungarian National Gallery

I love also that communication begets communication in this passage. The actual Word in the womb of Mary animates her to become a communicator of it immediately.   The first step after Mary’s yes to the angel is her “setting out to the hill country in haste” to go see Elizabeth. As Mary greets Elizabeth, her very act of communication (that is, a word of greeting) is so filled with grace that the unborn baby John recognizes it and leaps in the womb, and Elizabeth too becomes filled with the Holy Spirit and “cries out in a loud voice saying ‘Most blessed are you among women’” (Lk 1:42). As soon as Mary receives the Word in her womb, she becomes a communicator of the Word, and Mary’s communication begets Elizabeth’s communication. The Word reverberates powerfully through the story, grace-filled words stirring Spirit-led joy, evoking words of blessing in turn.

The climax of the story is the Magnificat, Mary’s heart-song that she offers powerfully, prophetically—imagining this young woman saying these ancient words is seeing evidence of the Word inside her animating her. These words are the first we hear from Mary after she conceives, her first recorded words as carrier of the Word. They are words of joy, awe, hope, promise, trust, strength, freedom, and justice. They begin to tell of Jesus Christ before he is born to speak for himself in the countless ways he will. The lessons on communication continue, giving us a sense of what Word and Spirit sound like when a faithful person gives herself over to them in an act of communication. St. Paul too identifies the gifts and fruits of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:7–11; Gal 5:22–23) and we see these resounding in the Magnificat.

What does saving communication hold for the saving of communication? It offers us intentionality, a posture to take on when engaging in communication in and through the mirifica technicae artis of digital communication.  It is a posture of listening, openness, hospitality. It is welcoming and seeking to offer a life-giving Word. It is commitment to the question, to seek and to learn more before jumping to a narrow and condemning conclusion. It is a recognition of encounter and of presence when considering the other behind the screen. It is communication infused with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control—the fruits of God’s Spirit animating the communicative act. It is an authentic outward movement to meet the other, traveling in haste to the hill country with a message of joy that begets joy. It is making way for Good News to be born, lived, shared.

Ash Wednesday: A Solitary Sign of Solidarity

Allison D'AmbrosiaAllison D’Ambrosia
St. Mary’s College, Class of 2016

For strength in the spiritual combat, that he may bravely confess the Faith of Christ even in face of the enemies of that Faith . . . he is signed with the sign of the cross, as a soldier with the sign of his leader, which should be evident and manifest. Now, the forehead, which is hardly ever covered, is the most conspicuous part of the human body. . . . [He is anointed] on the forehead, that he may show publicly that he is a Christian. (Summa Theologiae III, Q 72, Art. 9, i.a.)

Even though the above quote from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae is on being anointed with chrism at Confirmation, I think it is more than applicable to Ash Wednesday. I kept reminding myself yesterday that the sign of the cross on my forehead was one of strength, a reminder that I was to be a soldier. Yesterday was the first Ash Wednesday when I was among the minority, the first time I wasn’t surrounded by Catholics. I felt like I was a bit outside my normal Catholic Bubble. From kindergarten through college I have gone to a Catholic school. Not only is Oxford not Catholic, but it’s incredibly secular. That being said, I am still at a Catholic college within Oxford, called Blackfriars Hall, which is run by the Dominican Friars—so in a sense, I haven’t totally burst out of the bubble. However, this Ash Wednesday felt very different from the rest. I decided to jot down my thoughts about once an hour yesterday, then reflect on the day as a whole, and this post is the result:

9:00 AM: I woke up late after not listening to my alarm and missed the 8:30 AM service I was planning on attending. However, I was a bit relieved that I wouldn’t have to wear my ashes around longer than necessary. The next service was at 12:05 PM. **Lenten Promise: wake up to my first alarm, no snooze buttons!** I then went to the library and read until noon.

12:00 PM: Went to the JCR (Junior Common Room) and made conversation about how many cookies there were in the cookie jar. Made a joke about how the Catholics must be the ones eating all the “biscuits” because they’d usually be gone by now, but since we were fasting, they were still there. I then got asked about why Catholics fast on Ash Wednesday, if I was fasting every day during Lent, how many meals I could eat, what I could eat, etc. I didn’t really have an answer to all those questions. I told my friend I ate one meal and then a snack when I was fasting and didn’t drink anything other than water. I think told her I wasn’t sure of the exact reason why Catholics fasted on Ash Wednesday, other than as a reminder of our weak humanity, a remembrance that “we are dust, and to dust we shall return.”

12:05 PM: Arrived for Mass. Overwhelmed with how few people my age were in attendance (probably only around 10 in total). Going to daily Mass, I usually see the same faces every day, yet I was taken aback by how many new faces there were in the congregation. There were young parents with their children, college students, all mixed in with the frequenting older gray-haired crowd.

1:00 PM: At lunch I got asked if Catholics could eat meat on Ash Wednesday, and why we didn’t eat meat? (I really need to work on my apologetics!) Then was asked what I was giving up for Lent. On my way back to the library I ran into a friend who stopped me to tell me I had something on my head. When I told her it was ashes she then jokingly told me it was a good look; I should make it a trend. Upon entering the library another friend of mine asked, “What the hell is on your head? What have you done to yourself? You look ridiculous!” Upon explaining to her they were ashes as it was Ash Wednesday, and again quoting the blessing from the Priest, we then had a lovely conversation about Northern Lights and the use of the phrase “Remember you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” As I turned to go to my usual spot, I saw the other two people at her table lean over and point to their foreheads, asking what I was doing. I then had another friend come up to me and ask if I had to wear them “Alllllll day long?! But what if you have to wash your face?”

2:00 PM: I was walking to get some water and someone came up to me and asked what that “black stuff” was because they had never seen that before. A bystander replied, “It’s ashes. to show you’re Catholic.”

3:00 PM: A friend came back from a meeting and looked at me shocked, asking, “What did you do to your head?” I told him they were ashes for Ash Wednesday; he then responded, “Oh! That makes sense, the guy sitting across from me in the meeting had that too, but I didn’t want to ask what it was.”

By around 4:00 PM the ashes had mostly worn off and only a very faint mark remained, probably just looking like I got some dirt on my forehead or went a little crazy with putting on my mascara. I didn’t receive many other questions or comments, except one. A friend of mine, who is not Catholic, came over and said, “OH! I would have loved to have gone to Mass with you!” This is the crux.

In general, my day seemed rather contradictory to the Gospel reading:

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

All day long I was wearing my ashes, and all day long people were looking at me wondering what I was doing, what was on my head. I was by no means flying under the radar. Is the Gospel saying I should have secluded myself to my room so as not to have to show off what I was doing? Is this contradictory to what Aquinas writes about being soldiers of God and bearing his mark as a sign of strength? After quite a bit of reflection I’d say no, these are not contradictory, but complementary.

We wear ashes as a sign of solidarity with all the world. We wear ashes as a sign that we are taking responsibility for our own sin and all the sin in the world, even those we have not committed personally. We look to deny harmful satisfaction, and we strive to face the difficult questions (quite literally) head on. Not only did I find the questions, the confused glances, or the concerns difficult, but I also found them difficult to face alone. Ash Wednesday, for me, had always been something I’d observed with other people. Yet, being the only one in view bearing ashes made me feel like I was bearing them for other people, not just myself. The homily I heard yesterday was all about how we need to be in solidarity as members of a fallen humanity, to truly accept that we are dust, yet to understand also that through that dust comes our salvation. It is easy to give things up for Lent and to feel as if you have changed, and after 40 days of penance to go right back to where you were 41 days earlier. Yet, I now feel I understand the role of the disciples, and thus I understand the role of all those in the Church as we are all called to a priestly mission as baptized members in Christ’s Body.  We must all take responsibility, we must all be in solidarity at all times, and we must not rely on the reminders of others. Pope Francis writes in his Lenten address for 2015,

Usually, when we are healthy and comfortable, we forget about others (something God the Father never does): we are unconcerned with their problems, their sufferings and the injustices they endure. . . Our heart grows cold. As long as I am relatively healthy and comfortable, I don’t think about those less well off. Today, this selfish attitude of indifference has taken on global proportions, to the extent that we can speak of a globalization of indifference. It is a problem which we, as Christians, need to confront.

We must be able to fast on our own without expecting everyone we eat with to fast as well; we must be able to give money away not just because we are following in the footsteps of a Starbucks-pay-it-forward line; and we must also retreat into our rooms and remember to pray on our own, not just when there is a congregation next to us kneeling down as well. In the way I was singled out today by wearing my ashes, we must all stand alone in order to stand together as a Church, in true solidarity with the poor and suffering in order to act as the Body of Christ, “that neither fear nor shame may hinder [us] from confessing the name of Christ.”

Three Things We’re Reading Today: MLK, Charlie Hebdo, and the Week

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

1) Archbishop Joseph Kurtz’ MLK day message is worth a read this day:

As our nation celebrates the life and legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today, I am reminded of the timeless plea found in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail that we move “from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.” I am grateful for Dr. King’s words and actions and those of so many who worked for justice and helped to advance our country’s recognition of the dignity and equality of each person.

Continuing tensions and violence in our communities remind us that although significant progress has been made in erasing the stain of racism and the cycle of related violence, we still have much work to do. As we consider the gains of the past and the challenges before us, I urge each of us to pray for healing and peace as we work for ever greater communion. Every human life has profound dignity, rooted in our creation in the image of God. We are one family. Our communities will only reflect this dignity if we first turn to prayer to guide our actions toward ending years of isolation, disregard and conflict between neighbors. That which seems impossible can only be brought about through God and his powerful intervention in our hearts.

2) A nice summary of why there are those who will not say Je suis Charlie by The Jesuit Post’s Niall Leahy, SJ:

  • The British newspaper The Guardian asserted in an editorial that the right to offend is implicit in the right to freedom of expression. Satire has been present in European and French culture for centuries and even played a key role in the ousting of monarchical power during the French Revolution. The argument goes that curbing the right to offend weakens a democracy and paves the way for tyranny and the abuse of political power.

  • Even if we retain the right to offend, what constitutes a legitimate target for satire? It has become clear that the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo have caused major offense to a French Muslim community that was already feeling marginalized. A Jesuit friend who for decades has worked with marginalized communities on both sides of the Irish border noted that satire is most effective when it takes aim at the powerful — and most destructive when it ridicules the weak. Or as another liberal Muslim commentator has put it, satire should “punch up.

3) Pope Francis and the Republican party was treated by The Week “this week”:

Looks like the honeymoon is finally over.

The question is why now — and why over the environment of all things?

The answer, I think, is that the environment, in itself, has very little to do with it. The problem is simply that Francis has broken from too many elements in the Republican Party platform. First there were affirming statements about homosexuality. Then harsh words for capitalism and trickle-down economics. And now climate change. That, it seems, is a bridge too far. Francis has put conservative American Catholics in the position of having to choose between the pope and the GOP. It should surprise no one that they’re siding with the Republicans.

Three Things We’re Reading Today: Pope Francis, Joy of the Gospel, and the Communion of Reading.

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

1) Though we generally try to link to articles that we’re reading throughout the web, today, we happen to be reading a book relevant to themes on this blog. It is Austen Ivereigh’s recent book, The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope. Immersed in the first chapter, it’s a brilliant read of what makes Francis who he is as pastor and reformer alike. Here’s a small excerpt of the first chapter:

When he was elected pope, Bergoglio’s love of tango was cited by Argentina’s media as proof–along with his devotion to San Lorenzo, and his attachment to the ubiquitous smoky green Argentine tea called mate–of his guy-next-door qualities. But in the 1950s tango was still edgy; it still, if dimly, suggested lipstick-smudged hookers fleeing pinstriped hoodlums down dark alleys. For a teenager thinking of the priesthood, the attraction to it was unusual, and a sign that even then, in the confusion of adolescence, the margins beckoned.

More from this book next week.

2) Speaking of Pope Francis, the fine editors at Millennial invited me to write a piece introducing some of the themes from our issue on Pope Francis. Here is a selection for your reading pleasure (but really read the whole journal, because that will be more fun):

Perhaps what makes Pope Francis so attractive to the contemporary world is that he is actually pointing beyond himself toward Jesus Christ. This relatively unknown (among those of us in the United States) Argentinian and Jesuit archbishop has pointed the Church beyond its own political bickering, its own arguments, its own myopic focus upon survival toward the transformation of the world made possible through the Word made flesh. As Evangelii Gaudium makes clear, we are not forced to decide between the love of Jesus Christ and a commitment to a transformed social order.

3) Lastly, a really beautiful essay on the spirituality of reading at Commonweal by Dominic Preziosi:

Which doesn’t sound all that different from something Karr writes in the essay whose title was mentioned above, and which also appeared as an introduction to the 2002 Modern Library edition of The Waste Land and Other Writings: “The mere exercise of attention—eyes wide, ears pricked, heart open—is not a bad way to move through the world.” Though she presents it as an approach specifically for navigating “The Waste Land” without succumbing to “the despair and the angst rendered,” the imperative to read it with the “alertness the poem demands” strikes me as akin to McDermott’s more general admonition. Reading Eliot, Karr says, “can work like the miracle of communion—you take the Eucharist of the writer’s words into the rough meat of your body in order to be transformed by someone else’s mysterious passion. It brings you into a community of like sufferers.”