Tag Archives: Sermons

On Martyrs and Marchers

Ann AstellSr. Ann Astell

Professor, Notre Dame Department of Theology

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Editorial Note: This post was originally delivered as a homily during Vespers on Wednesday, January 20. We are grateful for the author’s permission to publish it here.

Brothers and sisters, in your relations with one another,
clothe yourselves with humility,
because God “is stern with the arrogant
but to the humble he shows kindness.”
Bow humbly before God’s mighty hand,
so that in due time he may lift you high.

Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you.

Stay sober and alert.
Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion
looking for someone to devour.
Resist him, solid in your faith,
realizing that the brotherhood of believers
is undergoing the same sufferings throughout the world.

The God of all grace,
who called you to his everlasting glory in Christ,
will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish
those who have suffered a little while.
Dominion be his throughout the ages! Amen.
(1 Peter 5:5b–11)

Today is the feast of a martyr, St. Sebastian, who gave his life for Christ in the third century, under the emperor Diocletian. Christian art depicts Sebastian as an alter Christus, muscular, young, bound naked to a post, his body shot full of arrows, as Jesus was nailed to his Cross. The epistle of Peter speaks to Sebastian and to all the martyrs. It rings in their ears: “Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith, realizing that the brotherhood of believers is undergoing the same sufferings throughout the world” (1 Pet 5:–9). A prowling lion! During the reigns of Nero and Diocletian, Christians were literally fed to lions.

Throughout the centuries, however, the epistle’s exhortation sounds in the present tense. When has the age of martyrs ever ended? To Blessed Basil Moreau, C.S.C., who died on January 20, 1873, and whose feast we also observe today—to him too came the call to martyrdom! A martyrdom suffered not with a pagan emperor’s arrows and not through violent death, but through the suppression of the Church in a fiercely laical France. Facing that hostility and the countless challenges that were his as a founder, he looked to the Cross as his—and our—only hope.

We celebrate these Vespers on the eve of the departure of Notre Dame students and faculty who will be traveling to Washington, D.C. to bear witness to the sanctity of human life in the midst of a culture of death. They will end their march at the steps leading up to the Supreme Court Building, where the Roe v. Wade decision was made in 1973, and where an important case with regard to religious liberty and health care is currently being considered. To the Little Sisters of the Poor, their legal defenders, and their co-litigants, the call to martyrdom has also come. Staying “sober and alert,” they have “cast all their care” on the Lord who cares for them, trusting that he “will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish those who have suffered a little while” (1 Pet 5:7–8, 10).

According to the epistle we have just heard, Christians undergoing persecution and trial can draw strength from the knowledge that they do not suffer alone, that “the brotherhood of believers is undergoing the same sufferings throughout the world” (1 Pet 5:9). In our day, “throughout the world” brings to mind a litany of place names: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan, India, China, the Sudan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Burundi, Mexico, Brazil, refugee camps in Europe. Everywhere the lion prowls. And everywhere brave souls continue to love, to hope, to confess Christ, to bow humbly beneath the cross, terrible and triumphant, that conforms the Christian to Christ. Ave Crux, Spes Unica!

On this day, January 20, in 1942, Servant of God Joseph Kentenich (1885–1968), a Pallottine priest and the founder of Schoenstatt, celebrated Holy Mass in his prison cell. Soon to be sent to Dachau, where he was to suffer for three and a half years, Fr. Kentenich freely laid down his life in union with Christ during that Eucharist, celebrated alone and in secret, but in spiritual union with his followers, some of whom were already prisoners in the concentration camp. “The brotherhood of believers” (1 Pet 5:9)! Fr. Kentenich’s risk-taking, his trusting “yes” to the Cross, expressed his deep faith in Christ, but also in the mystical body of Christ, the communion of saints. “What I do, what I suffer, how I love, affects others,” he wrote.

Let us live our lives, day by day, in a greater consciousness of our responsibility for one another, in solidarity with the martyrs who suffer not only for Christ but, in Christ, for us.

St. Sebastian, Blessed Basil Moreau, pray for us.

Metrics and Mercy

Stacey Noem, M.Div.

Director of Human and Spiritual Formation for Lay Students, 
Notre Dame Master of Divinity Program

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Editorial Note: This post was originally delivered as a homily during Vespers on Wednesday, October 14, the memorial of St. Callistus. We are grateful for the author’s permission to publish it here.

O God, you search me and you know me, / you know my resting and my rising, / you discern my purpose from afar. / You mark when I walk or lie down, / all my ways lie open to you.

Before ever a word is on my tongue / you know it, O LORD, through and through. / Behind and before you besiege me, / your hand ever laid upon me. / Too wonderful for me, this knowledge, / too high, beyond my reach.

O where can I go from your spirit, / or where can I flee from your face? / If I climb the heavens, you are there. / If I lie in the grave, you are there.

If I take the wings of the dawn / and dwell at the sea’s furthest end, / even there your hand would lead me, / your right hand would hold me fast.

If I say, “Let the darkness hide me / and the light around me be night,” / even darkness is not darkness for you / and the night is as clear as the day.

For it was you who created my being, / knit me together in my mother’s womb. / I thank you for the wonder of my being, / for the wonders of all your creation.

Already you knew my soul, / my body held no secret from you / when I was being fashioned in secret / and molded in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw all my actions, / they were all of them written in your book; / everyone of my days was decreed / before one of them came into being.

To me, how mysterious your thoughts, / the sum of them not to be numbered! / If I count them, they are more than the sand; / to finish, I must be eternal, like you.

O search me, God, and know my heart. / O test me and know my thoughts. / See that I follow not the wrong path / and lead me in the path of life eternal. (Ps 139)
***

The way we can be sure of our knowledge of Christ
is to keep his commandments.
The man who claims, “I have known him,”
without keeping his commandments is a liar;
in such a one there is no truth.
But whoever keeps his word, truly has the love of God
been made perfect in him.
The way we can be sure we are in union with him
is for the man who claims to abide in him
to conduct himself just as he did. (1 Jn 2:3–6)

*****

Our psalm and our reading tell us that we are being measured.

I think we must be used to it here, at an institution like Notre Dame: We are measured by scores and resumes to get in; we are measured by exams and papers and grades while we’re students; we are measured by Endeavor goals and objectives as staff; we are measured by publication and tenure as faculty . . . currently there is even a wellness exam station in the library to measure our biometrics.

We are used to being measured . . . at least we are used to being measured for our doing: for our activity or for our output. Perhaps, though, we are not as used to being measured for our being. For our inmost thoughts and for our orientation either toward or away from God. But that is exactly what our psalm and our reading point to. We are being measured, and notably, only God can take our full measure.

CrucifixionHelpfully, we know the metric. Our reading is clear that there are two criteria for which we are accountable: keeping Jesus’ commandments, and conducting ourselves as Jesus did. Essentially, conforming ourselves to Christ. We know the metric and we don’t want to be found wanting.

The psalmist, in an effort not to be found wanting hedges her bets proclaiming, “How wonderful your wisdom…so far beyond my understanding” and “How mysterious your thoughts…”; if I tried to count them I would need to be eternal like you just to finish. It’s almost as though she is saying, I can’t possibly measure up.

Psalm 139 is unique as psalms go. It doesn’t exactly fit in any traditional categories (lament, praise, etc.). It has beautiful imagery that composers have set to equally beautiful music. But as a whole it is somewhat haunting: the psalmist has full confidence that God knows her intimately and completely, but this is not exactly a comfort. There is no escape from God . . . not in resting or rising; she can’t even hide from God in the darkest darkness.

We are being measured . . . and there is no escape from God.

But, there is also no escape from the boundless abundance of God’s grace. Only God’s love and mercy are without measure.

St. Callistus knew this. He knew about the boundlessness of God’s mercy. Not only did he experience it in his life—he made more than one misstep that cost him and the local community dearly. He also proclaimed this boundless mercy as Pope—by establishing absolution for all sins, including the most grievous sins of adultery and murder, an act for which he was demonized by his contemporaries. But Callistus knew that he could not put a human limit on God’s immeasurable grace.

ConfessionWe have access to God’s immeasurable grace as well. In the Sacraments—especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In the Sacraments, we encounter Jesus and we receive from God’s boundless abundance of love and mercy. This is how we are capacitated—as our reading requires—to keep his commandments and to conduct ourselves as Jesus did.

On our own, we may be measured and found wanting. It is only through the immeasurable grace of God’s love that we may know God and hope to perfectly conform ourselves to Christ.

Confessing the Light

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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My son, although quick to pick up complicated musical rhythms (such that he conducted Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony in time this week), has been slow in his consistence use of words. ‘Ma’ and ‘Da’ have been occasionally uttered by him, as well as the word ‘snake’ (my fault) and ‘naked’ (also my fault). It’s not that he has lacked understanding, well aware of certain nuances of the English language including the darker meaning of the word ‘no.’ Rather, he has simply seemed pleased to soak in the delightful nuances of human speech, a silent poet in the making. Who occasionally screams with delight.

That is, until this week. One evening, having lit the candles of the Advent wreath at the center of our table, my son pointed to the center of the table and declared with utter confidence “Light.” When we asked again what was on the table, he again stated, “Light.”  In reality, we should not have been surprised that his “first word” was light. My son has been fascinated by lamps (outdoor and indoor alike), always pointing them out to us at home and on walks. At Mass, his attention is immediately directed to the processional cross and candles. As I was putting up the outdoor Christmas lights several weeks ago, he gazed with wonder at the display of luminous Lightscolor marking our home (I don’t blame him).

My son’s recent declaration of luminosity in our midst invited me to consider the season of Advent anew. We are all aware of the darkness that seems to mark our present moment in history. On the streets of Ferguson and New York City, our vision encounters the darkness of sin and violence. The recent terror report made public before our eyes the shadows of our nation’s desire for safety, of a willingness to inflict violence upon those that threaten us. The darkness of Ebola (well-forgotten by a media who has turned its attention span to other immediate concerns like the visit of Kate and William to New York), of ISIS, of companies that dispose of workers like a previous generation of IPhones. These public moments of darkness are compounded by those individual occasions of dread as we face the death of a parent, a diagnosis of depression, relationships that have fallen apart, and on and on. Perhaps, it is easy enough for a child to see the light, not yet aware of the all-encompassing darkness. But for those of us more mature, who take ourselves seriously, how can we see anything else but the absence of light?

And yet during the season of Advent, we are invited to learn again to see the light even in the shadows of the present. In the midst of our supposed Christian maturity, we often live as those who have grown accustomed to the darkness. We learn to love despair, to perceive in the world nothing but the forces of death that seem to mark the present age. Forgetful that “…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14). Forgetful that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (Jn. 1:5). Yet, Dawncan we gaze into this darkness, into the sorrowful shadows that creep upon our public and private human history alike and see the first rays of dawn?

This kind of seeing comes with a cost. Christian faith does not pass over the darkness as if it does not exist. We are not gnostics seeking to escape the human condition, who can simply ignore our vulnerability to the terror that grips the human heart. We do not merely say, “Don’t worry, even in the darkness, there is light. God has a plan.” We cannot ignore our utter poverty in the face of existence. Rather, the season of Advent invites us to embrace our poverty in imitation of the Word made flesh. To love this poverty, to recognize the darkness that is part and parcel of the human condition, is to take the first step to perceiving anew the light.

For this reason, Advent remains a season in which we embrace the poverty of who we are. That is, we learn again that the only way to see the coming light, the dawning day, is to recognize that we remain in darkness. Like a child, we must name the world for what it is. A world that seeks to grasp power at all costs even if it elicits violence. A world that divides humanity into those lives who matter, and those who do not. A world in which violence against women becomes fodder for television ratings. A world in which believe that I am the only one who sees the light, the only one who is redeemed, the only one…

ProphetIsaiahThis is the grammar of the prophets, who begin their proclamation of redemption not by passing over the darkness but naming it for what it is. Israel has sinned, God has judged, yet even now there is the possibility of hope:

O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord! For you have forsaken the ways of your people, O house of Jacob.

For us Christians, the light that we encounter is no mere spiritual idea. Rather, it is a person. It is the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ who comes to show us what it means to be fully human and fully divine, to live as one in the light. As Joseph Ratzinger writes:

…the most fundamental feature of Christian faith or belief [is]…its personal character. Christian faith is more than an option in favor of a spiritual ground to the world; its central formula is not ‘I believe in something,’ but ‘I believe in you.’ It is the encounter with the man Jesus, and in this encounter it experiences the meaning of the world as a person. In Jesus’ life from the Father, in the immediacy and intensity of his converse with him in prayer and, indeed, face to face, he is God’s witness, through whom the intangible has become tangible, the distant has drawn near…In his life, in the unconditional devotion of himself to men, the meaning of the world is present before us; it vouchsafes itself to us as love that loves even me and makes life worth living by this incomprehensible gift of a love free from any threat of fading away or any tingle of egoism (Introduction to Christianity, 79).

Advent prepares us to gaze upon the infant Christ as Christmas not as a sentimental statue. Rather, we dare to call this powerless infant, the light that shines into the darkness. Can we, like my son, gaze at such powerlessness, such self-emptying love, and see that we have encountered light? And when we encounter this light, we must become this light in the context of our own histories.

Such is the work of Advent. We are preparing to not merely celebrate the birthday of Jesus, the baby. Rather, we are learning to become childlike, to become sons and daughters of the God who is light. And just as that Advent candle illuminates the darkness, we too will become children of the light, brightening the darkness of human history through the gift of love. For others too will learn to gaze upon us, not just candles placed in the middle of some table, and say (with my toddler son), “Light.”

 

Make of Your Bodies a Living Sacrifice: A Vespers Homily

Tim-OMalley-e1375811311325-137x150Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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This homily was preached at the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy Vespers (September 9, 2014):

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all (Romans 12:9-18).

TrinityI have a tendency to delight in my own theological musings. I revel in contemplating the processions of the Son and the Spirit from the Father, aware that this Trinitarian grammar requires us to re-conceive of everything that we thought about the world. I often find
myself considering with serene enjoyment how in the liturgical rites of the Church, women and men return to our original vocation as those made to praise and adore God. In my prayer, I discover myself charmed by the spiritual insights that come to me as I let the words of the Psalms marinate in my mouth and imagination alike.

Of course, early in my career as a theologian, I discovered the profound gap between insight and action, between the intellect and the will, between delight and duty. My intellectual musings upon the mystery of divine love in the Trinity often does not lead me to a deeper capacity to love concrete human beings, who I too often see as obstacles to my own very important labor. My discourse on the liturgical vocation of the Christian is interrupted by very real desire to have my own way in both my work and personal life, no matter the costs. My best intention to let the psalms become my daily bread is intruded upon by that demonic gift of rationalizing intellectual and administrative work above prayer.

I was reminded of this gap between the desire to love God and neighbor and the will to love in word and deed as I read over today’s reading from Saint Paul to the Romans. Beginning just a bit earlier than we read, Romans 12:1-2 states:

I appeal to you, therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (logike latreia). Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).

Paul’s exhortation for us to present our very bodies, the fullness of ourselves, as a kind of liturgical offering is a passage we’re all familiar with. The Apostle promises the very renewal of our minds, a transformation that moves us away from the reign of death and violence that characterizes the “the reign of the world” to that of the new creation.

If you are like me, you read this passage, and you delight in the image of a spiritual worship that is to take over our entire being. The thought alone of the victory of the new creation over that reign of sin and death undoubtedly pleases you. Yet, the Apostle interrupts our pleasant, secure, musings.

  • If you want to make of your bodies a spiritual offering, “love one another with mutual affection…Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.”
  • If you want to participate in the new creation, don’t simply think about it, but instead “bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
  • If you desire the renewal of your minds, moving beyond the reign of sin and death, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.”

StPaulDear friends, the spiritual worship that the Apostle is talking about, the transformation of our whole selves as we enter ever more deeply into the reign of the peaceable kingdom, is not merely an idea to be pondered. For the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Our spiritual worship is not an intellectual endeavor alone, a decision to follow Christ made possible through the exercise of our minds or our good intentions or pious musings. Instead, we learn this spiritual worship, we learn to dwell in the new creation when we enter into the concrete, mundane, and messy world of love. When we learn to greet the neighbor with love, to let the practice of prayer become inscribed upon our body, to enter into solidarity with all those who hunger and thirst for the Word made flesh, to love one another as I have loved you.

As we continue this academic semester together, dear friends, it is the Apostle who speaks to each of us. Let this year be an occasion not simply to delight in our own intellectual musings or administrative accomplishments or prayerful recollections. Instead, enter into the very heart of the Church, to those concrete bodily, practices of love that form us to offer that spiritual worship that will renew creation itself.

Breaking Open the Word: The Season of Easter (Cycle A, Weeks 1-5)

FrCharlieGordonCSCRev. Charles B. Gordon, C.S.C.

Co-Director, Garaventa Center

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Easter Sunday

The Sequence puts it well, “Death and life were locked together ResurrectedChristin a unique struggle.  Life’s captain died; now he reigns, never more to die… Christ my hope has risen.  He will go before you into Galilee.”  Christ is risen.  In him, we have won a great victory over death –our greatest and most ancient foe.  It only remains for us to share in the fruits of that victory.

2nd Sunday of Easter

Christ responds to Thomas’s expression of faith by asking, “HaveThomas
you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” That’s us. We’re the one’s who’ve not seen the marks in Our Lord’s body, yet believe. But, with eyes of faith, we can recognize in one another the kind of things that he would say – the kind of things that he would do.

3rd Sunday of Easter

Then the resurrected Christ himself joined the two disciples on their walk. He said to them, “What little sense you have! How slow you are to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” And he proceeded to explain to them every passage of Scripture that referred to him. So they had all the facts of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. They had the Scriptures. They had Jesus Christ himself explaining the meaning of the Scriptures.
Yet the two disciples still didn’t recognize Jesus. Apparently RoadtoEmmausnothing could make them realize the truth of Jesus’ identity.

4th Sunday of Easter

ChristShepherdWhen morning came, the sheep had to be sorted out into their
individual flocks for another day’s quest for water and good grazing. But how could this be done? The sheep weren’t branded like cattle in a western movie. They weren’t marked with paint the way modern flocks are. Instead, each shepherd would come to the gate and call out to his flock. The sheep knew their shepherd’s voice and responded to it. They came out of the pen and followed him into the hills.

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Something similar may be happening in our Gospel today. The LastsupperDiscourseapostles are gathered around Jesus. He is in the midst of his farewell discourse. It had to be evident to the apostles that these solemn words of their master’s were profoundly important: a kind of summation of all that he had taught and of everything they had experienced together. They must
have been hanging on his every word.

“All Holy Men and Women”: The Holy Example of the Saints

Katharine Mahon

3rd Year Doctoral Student, Liturgical Studies

University of Notre Dame

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Celebrating All Saints’ Day can easily turn into a sort of liturgical catch-all for the sanctoral cycle: a way to honor any and all saints who fell by the wayside during our yearly celebration of the cycle of saints’ days.  But today is not the liturgical equivalent of the altar to the unknown god in Athens which Paul describes in Acts 17:22-23; the saints are not powerful beings in need of worship and ready to punish us for forgetting them.  The saints are holy Christian men and women, famous for their faith, love, and connection to God during their lifetimes and celebrated for their continued connection to God after their deaths.  We do not honor the saints in their own right, but, rather, we honor them for the ways in which their lives and teachings glorify God, point believers to Christ, and help us to grow in faith.  We honor them for their heroic faith and inspiring Christ-like love; we honor them for making Christ present in the midst of our world, miles away from where Christ walked and centuries after he died; we honor them for living the seemingly impossible perfection of the Christian life which, through Jesus Christ, we promised and we were promised at our baptisms.  We celebrate the saints as our spiritual champions, and yet we acknowledge that they have accomplished that which all Christians are called to do in their mortal lives, and, moreover, that they have received that eternal life which Jesus promised in the Gospels to all who follow him.

Last year on All Saints’ Day, Timothy O’Malley wrote about the Christian vocation to sainthood.  He explained that our humanity is not what excuses us from the perfection of the saints, but is, in fact, the only way in which we can hope to become saints.  How can we possibly hope to accomplish this daunting vocation of saintly perfection, you ask?  The answer, of course, is Jesus (if I have learned anything from graduate theological study, it’s that the answer is always Jesus); perfection can only be reached through Jesus Christ who became human so that humanity could become one with God.  “Follow me,” Jesus invites us again and again in the Gospels, and it is the variety of holy responses to that invitation which not only defines two thousand years of Christian history, but also defines why we celebrate of All Saints’ Day.  All Saints’ Day is not the celebration of the saints for their holiness or miracles in and of themselves; it is the celebration of how the lives, deaths, examples, and prayers of the saints point us to Christ and lead us in our journey to everlasting life with him.

The core of the Christian understanding of sainthood is the belief that the saint lived a life (or, in the case of martyrs, died a death) so exemplary of Christ’s good news or so obviously Christ-like that he or she now undoubtedly enjoys eternal life with Christ.  Let us take Saint Paul as an example: we remember Paul’s holy life and holy death in stories, we celebrate his heavenly union with Christ in the Eucharistic prayers, we request his holy prayers in devotions, and we strive to be holy as he was holy by following the example of his life and the wisdom of his teachings.  There is, however, something troubling to our modern sensibilities about seeing the saints as models and following the examples of the saints.  For one, their examples are incredibly extraordinary (they would be tough acts to follow); for another, standard categorization of the saints can often be quite limited, focusing on the saints’ ordained status or virginity, which seems to boil down their heroic holiness to simplistic models.

The issue, I think, lies in the way we understand the saints as models and how we conceive of imitating their examples.  Saint Catherine of Siena, Virgin and Doctor of the Church, for example, is not a model for a life of faith in the sense that the pattern of her life should be emulated by all women through lifelong virginity and mystical spirituality; Catherine of Siena is a model for all the faithful in as much as she modeled Christ to others and lived a life of exemplary discipleship.  Catherine’s life was notable for her mystical visions of Christ, her selfless work for the poor and ill, her wise spiritual teachings, and even her advising of the pope.  Her life was also marked by an early vow of virginity, near-constant illness and suffering, and extreme fasting that contributed to her early death.  Catherine’s radical asceticism was considered a mark of holiness in the fourteenth century and, tragic as it sounds to us, back then this harsh asceticism was seen as a commendable way to commune with God, to follow Christ, and to become an instrument for grace and holiness in the world.  Her methods may be unpleasant to us but we should consider how they demonstrate the way in which Catherine—in her beloved spiritual teachings, critiques of corrupt authorities, care for the poor and sick, and ceaseless love of the Church—was zealously committed to modeling Christ for everyone who crossed her path and they made her one of the countless saintly models of loving one another as Christ love, the concept which we celebrate today.

At baptism we become Christ’s: we take on the gift of his name and the task of continuing his work on earth. The saints, then, continue Christ’s ministries of love through their work on earth and, by their examples, model the limitless ways in which we grow in communion with Christ by becoming more like him.  We hope, moreover, that their continued prayers and presence with us, the Church here on earth, might aid us in becoming worthy of being called members of the Body of Christ.  Therefore, when we celebrate All Saints’ Day, we celebrate this relationship of holiness—between Jesus Christ, the saints, and ourselves—which we hope will one day lead to all of us being counted among All Saints.

 

The Mosaic of Christ: A Reflection on All Saints Day

Ben Wilson

MDiv. Candidate, University of Notre Dame

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Today we celebrate those whom Jesus calls blessed, those whose reward is great in heaven, those who are called children of God.

If you look closely at the image above, you will see an image of these blessed ones, of the saints whom the Church celebrates today.  Similar to the way the Beatitudes spell out what makes for blessedness, this icon depicts the heart of what a saint is.

See how Christ is at the focal point with the saints radiating out from Him.  There is a darkness surrounding Christ; there is something hidden about Him.  The saints, arrayed around Him in their countless shining colors, reflect the luminosity of Christ.  The saints provide the Church with a sort of kaleidoscope through which we can see Christ’s splendor from a thousand different angles.

In reflecting on the saints, author Clare Boothe Luce wrote: “The portrait of a saint is only a fragment of a great and still uncompleted mosaic—the portrait of Jesus.”  It isn’t that Jesus is incomplete, but our vision of Him is incomplete.  We can’t possibly take in His fullness—we just catch more and more glimpses of Him.  Remember what St. Paul said to the Colossians — “In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” (Col 1:24)  St. Paul’s words apply to what all the saints do—they fill up, they flesh out, they express in ever-new ways the inexhaustible fullness of the person of Jesus Christ.

I’ve often wondered about Jesus’ laughter.  We don’t see Him laugh in the Gospels.  Like the icon, there’s something hidden from us about Christ’s humor.  I think Christ’s humor is revealed bit by bit through the saints.  St. Philip Neri, for instance, is called “The Humorous Saint.” Over his door there was a sign that read “The House of Christian Mirth.”  Scores of people were attracted by St. Philip Neri’s light-heartedness which they knew to be a sign of Christ’s presence.

Christ wasn’t a mother in his earthly life.  St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine, by her persistent prayers for her son shows us something of Christ the Good Shepherd’s attentive care to the lost sheep.  You might say that St. Monica shows us something of how Christ would have been a mother.

Christ wasn’t chronically ill or disabled. St. Anna Schäffer, one of the seven saints recently canonized by Pope Benedict, was sick and confined to bed for most of her life.  St. Anna shows us something of Christ’s patience and long-suffering, His willingness to endure suffering gladly.

It isn’t that Christ is insufficient; He took on all that was human in becoming human.  The saints, in a thousand bursts of color, refract some part of Christ’s infinitely brilliant light in their own time and place.  The saints help to make known the Christ who has been revealed and yet remains in part hidden.

The invitation for us, the Christian vocation, is to reflect a bit of Christ’s immeasurable light in our unique hue.  What is it in us that helps to make something of Christ visible here and now?  Christ in His earthly life was not from South Bend; He wasn’t a schoolteacher or a banker; He didn’t have sisters or brothers; He wasn’t an artist or an engineer; He wasn’t elderly.  In each of our own unique circumstances, different from the details of Jesus’ own earthly life, how does Christ’s light shine through?

We don’t reflect Christ by our effort, by just being the best brother or baker or businessman that we can be.  Rather, our resemblance to Christ is a family resemblance. In baptism, we become children of God.  As we hear in the second reading for today from the first letter of St. John, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.” (1 Jn 3:1)  What love God has of us that He would call us His children, and allow us to be reflections of His only Son.

The concluding lines of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem “Kingfisher” come true most vividly in the lives of the saints:

“Christ plays in ten thousand places,           
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his   
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”

The Solemnity of All Saints celebrated today signifies the  Church’s recognition of Christ in the diverse and colorful features of the thousands of saints before us.  And the saints give us the courage to believe that Christ’s inexhaustible light will be reflected in some new color in us.

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: Medicine for Murmuring

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

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Murmuring.   Bitterness.  Complaint.   Israel’s pilgrimage in the desert is rarely an act of open rebellion against the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob; the God who brought them out of slavery and through the parted sea; who fed them tenderly with manna in the desert and honey from the rock.  It is the rebellion of a murmur, a constant distrust that the God who had been their creator, their sustainer, their liberator actually cared for them.  It is a slowly developing hatred that begins with a hidden conversation behind a closed door, in which we air our discontent for a boss, a friend, a spouse.  And as our conversations increase, we take on the very distrust that was once simply a harmless word, a throw away comment.

With their patience worn out by the journey,
the people complained against God and Moses,
“Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert,
where there is no food or water?
We are disgusted with this wretched food!”

I suppose if I were God (a supposal I mull over a bit too much in my life), this bout of murmuring might have been the last straw.  Fine, I might have said.   You want to see what it’s like without me in the desert.  Go it alone.  Head back to Egypt, where there is real bitterness and real pain and real slavery.  Where you will immediately be taken into captivity, and since your recent departure consisted of the slaughter of every first born child and the entire army of Egypt, I presume that you will not be greeted with a parade.  You thought the slavery was harsh before.   Just wait!

Happily for the history of salvation, I am not God.  Based on the first reading for the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, upon initial glance, it does seem like I might have taken over for God but for a moment.  As punishment, the LORD sent serpents among the people, causing their death, a plague that ceased when Moses held up a bronze seraph mounted on a pole and all the people looked.  Like any number of biblical passages, this seems hard to read.  Is it really the case that the LORD is petty enough to punish through sending poisonous snakes into an encampment?  Does the punishment here even fit the crime?

As Christians, we cannot read this passage without looking toward the cross.  Christian typological exegesis, for example, perceives in the bronze serpent an image of the cross itself, which was lifted up in the desert that the Father might draw all things to himself through the death of his Son.  But, why draw all things through death?  The cross, a mystery that we have too often diluted of its bedazzling force, is as perplexing as the serpent mounted on a pole:  why an instrument of torture and of death as our only only hope, the source of salvation?

Like a doctor considering the strangeness of a particular remedy, we have to first understand the nature of the malaise.  Ponder for a moment the origins of human sin.   In the garden, Adam and Eve’s foray into sin is the introduction of distrust, of disobedience into humanity (the true meaning of “original sin”).  Bestowed Paradise, promised the fruit of the Tree of Life, they seize and grab what was intended to be gift.  And they do so because the serpent murmurs to Eve the fundamental lie:  this God of yours doesn’t care but is in fact a despot seeking to manipulate and control you.  Since this moment, human beings have believed the lie.  And too often, we have shaped ourselves into the image and likeness of this god of our own phantasms.  A petty god, who grabs what is his own and manipulates the world according to his own desires.  A god concerned with power and prestige above all else.  A stingy god, who gives away begrudgingly.  An idol of our own self-interest.

Hence, the cross as a medicine for our murmuring.  For in Christ’s self-emptying love, we learn again what it means to be God.  We are rescued from the idolatry of our imaginations.  For:

Brothers and sisters:
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.

To be God is not to seize and hold on, to operate according to an economy of scarcity, to protect yourself at all costs.  It is to bend down in love, even unto death on the cross.  The God-man, Jesus Christ, does not murmur, does not hold onto his own identity, but gives it up as an act of loving obedience.  Not because the Father rejoiced in his death, sought his destruction, was hoping to destroy humanity through the visage of his Son.  But because true self-giving love, in a world that seems predisposed to reject such love, leads to death.   In a world operating according to the illogic of scarcity, of distrust, of the murmur, love unto the end is the ultimate threat.  For such divine love upsets the whole system, overthrows powers and principalities, and offers to human beings another way to live.  To give ourselves away according to the foolhardy economics of the cross, rather than the shrewd management of sin.

We are then ready to return to the serpents in the desert.  When we live according to the murmur, to distrust, commit ourselves (either implicitly or explicitly) to the belief that the world is oriented toward meaningless destruction,  it is as if serpents wrap themselves around our heart.  The poison moves within our system, and all things are viewed through the darkness of our murmured words.  In the cross, we find our medicine.

“No one has gone up to heaven
except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

For eternal life is never simply life forever (though it is this).  It is zoe, the life that begins for the Christian as soon as they perceive in light of baptismal grace that the cross is the only hope.  That love, self-gift, is in fact (despite all visible appearances) the order of the world.   That even in the most miserable events of one’s life, God is present seeking to bend down in love toward us.  That our relationships with God and each other are not meant to be ones of murmuring, of political machinations, of distrust, but of self-gift.  And as this medicine moves through our bodies, we find ourselves opened again toward real love, real self-gift, the order of love that is eternal life.

In this way, the cross is our own only hope not because it’s painful, not because we should seek out misery.  But because, it is only through the cross that we will discover how much God will bend down in love.  How the serpents of our distrustful murmurs have poisoned us.  And how another possibility exists.  To give ourselves away in reckless abandon, according to the economy of the cross.  And insofar as we do live according to this economy, we will find ourselves sharing in the cross itself, for at its roots is this not the function of Christian martyrdom?  Of true, Eucharistic self-gift?

So then, Ave Crux, Spes Unica.  Hail the cross, our only hope.  Hail the cross that dissipates hatred and death.  Hail the cross that shows the depth of God’s love for the world and reforms our own love that we might love in light of the glory revealed in Christ.  Hail the cross that renews human speech, orienting it again toward true worship.  Hail the cross that destroys every shadowy idol, every contemporary Babylon, who believes that power emerges from manipulation and fear.  Hail the cross, our only hope.

 

The Eyes of All Creatures Look to You: Our Hearts Moved to Gratitude

Fr. Kevin Grove, C.S.C.


Doctoral Student, Theology

University of Cambridge

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Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

St. John Fisher Catholic Chaplaincy

University of Cambridge, UK

29 July 2012

2 Kings 4:42-44; Ps 145; Eph 4:1-6; Jn 6:1-15

Augustine made the claim that all of Sacred Scripture was refracted through the psalms.  And today’s readings are certainly one instance of his point.  Sandwiched between Elisha’s miracle of twenty barley loaves feeding a hundred men and Jesus’ five barley loaves and two fish satisfying five thousand with baskets to spare we have the 145th Psalm.  And I trust that some of you have frequently heard the words of this psalm outside of Church here in Cambridge.  They are the preparatory words to a number of the college graces here at our university, and even the graces at another place![1]  In my college, two tables of fellows line up while the presiding fellows recite antiphonally: Oculi omnium in te sperant DomineAnd it continues on from there.  Now, for some attending these meals, this may seem merely an arcane, but nevertheless traditional Cambridge way of pre-dinner ritual.  Though, it is actually a Catholic and monastic tradition.  “The eyes of all creatures look to you, [O Lord] / and you give them their food in due season (Ps. 145:15ab).”

We gather here for a much more meaningful meal than those we so enjoy at formals, but the same psalm nevertheless gives us a dispositional orientation to the whole occasion.  The first line of our portion of Psalm 145 is that all your creatures shall thank you, O Lord.  It follows after and from that that you, God, are close to those who call on you from their hearts.  Approaching the Lord is, in the psalmist’s terms, a simultaneous mixture of gratitude and need.  It is part of the perennial beauty of the psalms, that they are able to capture the real depth of our human emotions.  For most often when we approach this table aren’t we in some combination of the same state: of course grateful for that which we receive but simultaneously in so much need of faith or prayer, of forgiveness, or healing, or rest?  In other words, we don’t forget about our needs.  We carry them in our very selves even as we give thanks.  The psalm reminds us that we are a blessed mixture of both; we are creatures who have a profound capacity for genuine thankfulness but are always aware of the many things that we ourselves and those we know need, lack, and long for.

This is the case in the second book of Kings.  The bread and grain brought to Elisha were excellent.  They were the first fruits, top stuff.  That was reason to be grateful.  They had been well provided.  Yet good though that was, the man to feed the people explained that it was not enough.  Such a blessing, yet so much need.  Gratitude in tandem with ever present need.

In John’s Gospel the same tension exists, yet with a development.  A little boy brings five barley loaves and two fish, a precise accounting of food connoting that they had been provided for, but not enough.  Gratitude in tandem with need.  But notice Jesus’ first action.  It was not to say, “It won’t be enough.”  It was not to say, “It will be enough.”  His first reaction was to take the bread and to give thanks.  And he did the same with the fish.  And what did he ask of the people?  Simply that they be seated, that they not move around to determine a solution to the problem among themselves, but that they see and participate in his giving thanks and then enjoy the fruits of God’s gift.  And ultimately, Christ’s miracle was of a magnitude that Elisha might only have dreamed.  He was the fulfillment of prophecy and more.

When you and I gather here for Mass, we gather for things and legitimately so.  We offer the sacrifice of the Mass for a need.  We bring our own needs as well as the many we carry in our hearts who need prayers, who need hope, who need love.  Our eyes do look up to our God that he might give us our food in due season.  Yet in both our Gospel and our Psalm, in which our needs do get met by our God, the meeting of needs is actually the second order of business.  The opening line of our psalm text is clear: all your creatures shall thank you Lord.  And in our Gospel Jesus thanked the Lord for the gift that they had been given. My point is not to minimize our needs, for, as these scriptures show, they are always with us and we rightly ask God to fill them.  But it makes all the difference that our first spiritual movement is one of thanksgiving.  I will suggest in just a few minutes from this altar that you and I “give thanks to the Lord our God.”  By your affirming that it is “right and just” to do so, you and I agree, together with the rest of those at Mass today throughout the world, that the first movement of our hearts around this altar really will be gratitude.

I will leave you with a single image, from St. Bernard.  Just as ingratitude dries us out and parches our souls, so gratitude is like the most renewing rain of grace that can yield growth in the most arid places of our lives.  For that, Deo Gratias!


[1] Oxford.

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Nothing is Impossible for God

Rev. Fr. Benedict Ukutegbe

Catholic Institute of West Africa,

Port Harcourt, Rivers State Nigeria.

 

It goes without saying that Mary occupies a special place in the life of the Church and her worship because of her role in the history of salvation.  There is no Eucharistic celebration, for example, where Mary is not venerated as the Mother of God along with all the saints who had done God’s will.  Today is one of such unique moment when the Church contemplates and thanks God for his wonderful works in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Divinely elected, she was to be the channel through which God’s predestined plan of salvation through Christ was to be realized.  The Immaculate Conception celebrates the singular privileged enjoyed by Mary whom God preserved from sin from the first moment of her life because she was to bear the spotless Lamb of God who was to take away the sins of the world.

Rationale of the Feast

The early Church spontaneously understood that the Blessed Mother of Christ could not be linked to any kind of sin, actual or original.  When the Christ was to take flesh it was necessary that the vessel to harbour him should be one of honour, pure and spotless because the Son of Man, the Holy One of God is the Lamb of God without blemish. It stands to reason to believe that the all-holy God can only take flesh in an unblemished womb.  Consequently, God prepared her from conception by preserving her from the stain of sin so she can be a worthy vessel of honour because the “child to be born will be holy; he will be called son of God” (Luke 1:35). This is why the angel addressed her as “Hail, full of grace” (Luke 1:28) and her cousin Elizabeth, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, declared: “Of all women you are the most blessed and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42).  Biblical references such as I Kings 8:11, Ps 87:1, 7, and Sir 24:4 have all been traditionally interpreted to refer to the purity of Mary. In the fourth Century, St. Ephrem described Mary as “sinless, immaculate and integral.” Like every human being, Mary experienced salvation or redemption but in a different way. Every other human being experiences liberative salvation since they are set free from sin and made holy.  However, Mary had no sin from which she needed to be liberated;she experienced preservative salvation, that is, she was preserved from the stain of sin in view of the redemption in Christ. These constitute the foundations for the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwx8g8z7FUo

Origin of Liturgical Celebration of the Feast

About the 8th century in the East, a feast in honour of the Immaculate Conception of Mary by Joachim and Ann was granted at the request of couples without a child. This was celebrated on December 9 in honour of the parents of Mary. When it spread to the West, it was celebrated in honour of the Immaculate Virgin Mary.In 1050 at the Council of Vercelli, Pope Leo IX recommended that the conception of the Virgin Mary be honoured. In 1166, Emperor Emmanuel Comnen made it a precept for the feast to be celebrated and in 1846 the title of “Immaculate Mary” was chosen as the principal patron of the United States of America. It was in 1854 that Pope Pius IX, on December 8, official declared the Immaculate Conception of Mary as a dogma of faith. Thereafter, it came to be celebrated universally under the title of Immaculate Conception of Mary.

A renewed Call to Holiness

In celebrating this feast, the church places before us the triumph of God’s grace in the Blessed Virgin Mary whom God preserved from every stain of sin. She becomes a model of holiness and purity for all Christians and in a special way for Priests, religious and members of Consecrated life. She is so full of grace that there could not have been any disgrace of sin found in her. She cooperated with the grace of God, submitted humbly to God’s will and led an exemplary life.  In the first reading (Gen 3:9-15, 20) the woman Eve along with Adam was the source of disgrace and God promised the great woman whose descendants would gain ultimate victory over the devil. In the gospel reading, the great woman Mary, full of grace, gained victory over the wiles of the devil by being pure and submissive to the will of God. She cooperated with God’s plan and became the mother of the Saviour who through his passion, death and resurrection crushed the head of the devil and set the records straight with God. Yet the battle is not over, since as St. Peter says the enemy, the devil is still antagonizing the children of God, luring them to the contamination of sin but they must remain strong in faith (I Peter 8-9).

Mary, the new Eve, is a shining example of purity and total submission to the will of God. As Mother of God and Mother of the Church, she calls us to submission to God’s will,  purity of heart and holiness of life for only the pure of heart will behold the face of God (Matt 5:8). This invitation to holiness resonates with the admonition of St. Paul (Second Reading) to the Ephesians: “Before the world was made he chose us, chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence” (Eph 5:27). This also echoes God’s demand of his children, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:48). This vocation becomes quite challenging in a world which seems suspicious of the name of God and celebrates the liberty of humanity as the determinant of its destiny; a world where the human heart appears coerced by sin and rebellion; a world where individuals prefer and seek to do their wills in defiance of God’s; a world where godly values seem toppled by ungodly ones and divine standards short-changed for mundane pleasures; a world where those who strive for holiness are labelled as “twisted” and moral deviants are celebrated as icons of human freedom. It is true that today’s world pose a great obstacle to the Christian vocation to holiness that some Christians are already acquiescing to the fact that it is impossible to be holy in the present age. In the midst of these, the encouraging and consoling voice of the angel must be heard anew “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you … for nothing will be impossible for God” (Luke 1: 35-37). Our vocation to holiness of life and purity of heart may be an uphill task, but we should be willing and ready to take it on believing, like Mary, that God’s promise will be fulfilled in us. He promised to be with us all the way on this journey (Matt 28:20).

Mary, Model to be Emulated

In celebrating this feast, we give thanks to God for his grace which bore fruit in the life of the Blessed Virgin, but we also look forward with admiration at her unique virtues and are therefore challenged to emulate her. In our world which seems to be losing the sense of sin, the Immaculate Heart of Mary is given to us as an example to imitate. We must listen to God’s word, meditate on and live by them as Mary did. This season of Advent offers us a fresh opportunity to purify our hearts of sin and remodel our lives according to the Gospel values exemplified in Mary, our Mother. We must remember that shortest route to failure is reliance on self.  Thus, through the intercession of Mary conceived without sin, may God’s grace bear fruits of purity and holiness in our lives as it did in the Blessed Virgin Mary.

O Mary Conceived without Sin. Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.