Tag Archives: Young Adults

Pondering the Sanctification of Our Ways (On Hobbit Day)

It is an odd fact about my life: I love small things. Small babies, small children, small dogs, tiny cabins, cozy rooms. And since my generation lives in a world driven by images, some better than others, (via Snapchat, Instagram, Tinder, etc) in times when I fall into the stereotype of that image-driven generation, hqdefaultI have spent more time than I care to admit sitting around with girlfriends looking at pictures, or Buzzfeed posts, or YouTube videos, or stories. (Usually, they’re titled something along the lines of, “BABIES TRY LEMONS FOR THE FIRST TIME! THIS IS A HILARIOUS MUST-WATCH.”)

My own affinity for the small, my genuine and deep-seeded love of children, and my desire to protect the innocent is probably rooted in my own psyche andnativity_icon1-227x300 my own life story—but the affinity also stems from an amazement at the reality of the Incarnation. I never cease to marvel at the fact that the Savior of our world came to the world as a tiny, vulnerable, crying, needy infant. The Word who always was allowed Himself to be nurtured and loved into maturity. (That could be another piece, another day.)

And so all of that being said, The Lord of the Rings has always been a place where loves of different sorts collided for me. I find Tolkien’s writing beautifully crafted, his imagination fantastic, and his ability to reflect on deep truths in the lens of myth-making and story-telling absolutely brilliant. I also find hobbits entirely lovable. In fact, for a long time, I loved hobbits simply because of their smallness.

When it came time to write a senior thesis, I eventually settled on writing it about the way the chief four hobbits Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin grow in virtue throughout The Lord of the Rings. My chief encourager in this line of thinking stemmed from a place where JRR Tolkien commented that, “…the structure of The Lord of the Rings was, “planned to be ‘hobbito-centric,’ that is, primarily a study of the ennoblement (or sanctification) of the humble” (Letters 237).  As I thought to myself about writing, the process went something like this:

  • A kind of spirituality of smallness, a’la Therese of Lisieux, check.
  • Lord of the Rings (a somewhat pathological obsession, my friends will testify), check.
  • Tolkien’s brilliance from his letters and interviews, check.
  • And I even managed to throw in something on patristic theories of the atonement. Relationship to historical Christianity, check.
  • Thoughts about vocation and call (one of my other obsessions)- check.

(An insight to me internally at this point: ALL OF THE THINGS I NERD OUT ABOUT WERE ABOUT TO BE IN ONE PLACE.)


“THIS IS SO GREAT!” I thought. “I’ll write all about hobbits, and why we love them, and why it’s beautiful that they’re small, and how important their smallness is to who they are, and yadda-yadda-yadda- yadda” (I can rant to myself for quite a long while). But sometimes, something happens when you write. Sometimes, you find that you were quite wrong in your instincts. Delving into a topic means that you have to permit your long-held ideas and conceptions to grow and mature. And at times, to be crushed. (Gulp.)

Endearing, Pippin. But according to Tolkien, I can’t love you for the sake of second breakfast alone.

It turned out that my own instincts about the place of humility, smallness, and the little in Tolkien’s fictional world were (quite simply) wrong. Not all wrong, but mostly wrong. I had an idealistic and romantic vision in my head of Tolkien’s hobbits as a preferred race, a race we ought to love and value for nothing more than their small, quiet ways of life and their quaint customs. The work I did delving into Tolkien’s own thoughts quickly and totally crushed that tendency towards over-romanticization of the small and childlike in Middle Earth out of me. The Ring cycle is still definitely about the ennoblement (or sanctification) of the humble. BUT, I came to find, this means we ought to appreciate the hobbits who willingly and freely undergo the process of what it takes to be sanctified and ennobled; we should not overtly romanticize the entire race.

Even though the trilogy thematically focuses on the “sanctification of the humble,” the situation is not so simple as loving hobbits because they are small, comical, innocent people who enjoy gardening and over-eating and time with family. Tolkien’s hobbits are often endearing and comic characters, to be sure, but it is not endearing-ness alone that makes one a saint, or Tolkien’s fictional equivalent of one. Simply put, the hobbits of Middle Earth who become heroes are revered because they demonstrate the Church’s definition of sanctity; they exhibit levels of heroic virtue.

screen_shot_2014-10-16_at_4.23.10_pm__largeThe Catechism, in a compilation of the Tradition, says that:

A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions (CCC 1803).

So the fictional saint-making in the context of The Lord of the Rings  stems from how our hero hobbits reacted to adversity and what exactly they did with the roads set before them– not from an innate  sanctification via innocence and ignorance. On those paths, the hobbits themselves were “enlarged” and “sanctified” for the sake of all of Middle Earth, because they continually tended toward and chose the good. (Though not always; saints in our real histories aren’t perfect either, but we can’t treat that here).

“You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo.”

The hobbits Sam, Merry, and Pippin demonstrate a heroic faithfulness for the sake of friendship, coupled with a steadfast courage that persons of their size and background should never have had. Frodo demonstrates a willingness to die for the sake of the entirety of the people of Middle Earth. Effectively, they all are given grace (by an unnamed providence, in this fictional context) in order to continue persevering in the realities presented to them. Take, for example, the hobbit Sam’s reflection on heroes that he shares with Frodo:

“…We shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to just have been just landed in them, usually—thetumblr_lg5u8beBEh1qgb6vio1_500ir paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten….” (Tolkien 711).

It is true, unfortunately, that a post of this nature can’t possibly capture the entirety of the thesis– nor treat all of the nuances involved fairly. But suffice to say, the more I studied and expanded my understanding, the more I came to love Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin. I saw just how much they all grew in courage, how much they sacrificed their own wants, totally abandoned any understanding of personal safety for the sake of friendship, loyalty, duty, or even a more complex understanding about the good of all. By the end of things, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin all actually had been “enlarged, or sanctified,” as Tolkien had desired to show, because they had acquired and continually acted with levels of courage, fortitude, and loyalty that absolutely none of the “Big People” ever expected hobbits to exemplify.

Although (alas) hobbits are fictional, many of us- myself very much included- feel ourselves to be hobbit-like in the scheme of the wider world. We feel small, or sometimes insignificant, or at the least unprepared for the path that has been set before our feet— for the illness of a family member, for the loss of a job, for loneliness in our own path, for difficulties with children, for the impossibility of a class load, for difficulty with responsibilities that “by rights” as Sam would say, we shouldn’t have. But understanding Tolkien’s thought means that if we understand ourselves as a “hobbit in faith,” we do not have the ability to flee to our respective Shires. We cannot content ourselves with pipe-smoking, gardening, entertaining family, and the like. There’s a huge key here to understanding vocation: understanding how we are called to respond to God and the realities of our lives does not mean constantly longing for peace and quiet and a return to (or discovery of) a place of safety.

For evil to be defeated in this world, we have to cooperate with the hand of Providence, even when that means the Way before us is frighteningly unknown or dangerous or not what we expected. To be a hobbit in faith means that we courageously continue, whatever the road before us, knowing that if we keep trying to follow the will of God, good may come of our current Road—even if this means a great deal of suffering and scarring on our part. Sam’s thought on this in the darkest of times communicates this more eloquently:

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tower high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. F7e19f0098d7cf5dd31615656e13915aaor like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach” (Tolkien 922).

Evil, and evil’s affinity for self-deception, will mean that child-like humility and a recognition of one’s smallness may allow for the grace of God to work in ways that will surprise all of us. The Road does not ever quite end, as Tolkien says; “it goes on and on.” It is our part to follow, and to keep following that Road that is at our feet, knowing that Christ is Himself our Road and our Way. We are all homo-viator: man on the journey, pilgrims seeking heaven. Thus, to be a hobbit in faith means to accept the Road that one’s feet have been set on, even if we in no way sought out our particular path, or even if we fear where the Road might be leading in the short term. And so we accept our Road, knowing that Christ our light, Christ our Way, Christ the beautiful, and Christ the victorious seeks us as we continue journeying Home.


Problematic Pop: Steinfeld’s “Love Myself”

Molly Daily

Molly Daily, ND ’14

Intern, Washington University & Webster University Catholic Student Center Campus Ministry

Contact Author

I have only been able to find two radio stations so far in St. Louis. The first is a 1970s rock station – certainly filled with talented musicians, but not my scene. So instead, I spend most days driving to and from work listening to the pop music station. One song has been played over and over in the past few days, written by “up and coming” artist Hailiee Steinfeld, and it is particularly disturbing to me – both in its content and in its indication of the attitude prevalent among young adults and those on college campuses.


The song is called “Love Myself.” Every time it comes on the radio, there’s a blurb by the artist telling listeners that she just wants them to know that they can do whatever they’re doing on their own – they don’t need anyone else to tell them they can. The song itself consists of Ms. Steinfeld proclaiming that, any time, she is just going to love herself, and she doesn’t need anyone else. Perhaps the most startling lyric: “I’m gonna put my body first/ And love me so hard til it hurts.”

Now, don’t get me wrong – the idea of self love and self worth is not only beautiful and important, but extremely Catholic. In order to truly worship God and submit to the truth of His works, one must recognize him or herself as the Lord’s creation and see the inherent beauty in that. While difficult, this is an entirely necessary step for anyone expecting to love creation and others. However, this true, humble, loving of oneself is entirely different than that which is espoused in the aforementioned song.

The loving of oneself in the Christian tradition is inherently communal – the love of self, rooted in the acceptance of Christ’s redemption of all humanity and humankind’s adoptive sonship with God, compels the believer to recognize that same beauty, that same divine sonship, in those around him or her. Self-love, and Christianity in general, are inherently other-centric.


This song proclaims entirely the opposite. Steinfeld confuses the purpose and nature of loving oneself, proclaiming that her love of self is not only separate from the other, but that this self-love in fact leads to separation. Perhaps even more fearful is her assertion in her “introduction” of the song, which suggests that correction and suggestion, two concepts rooted in the Catholic tradition in the love of the other and the desire to see the other at his or her best, are detrimental to one’s love of self and should be brushed off. This attitude is one I have seen on a broader level in the secular world, both within my campuses and in adults. We shrug off the obligation that comes with the Catholic idea of love of self – after all, that’s too hard. It precludes me from my ability to judge others and to do what I want, when I want. It makes it incredibly difficult to keep up with the immediate satisfaction of desires that has become so common, so advertised, and so valued. Instead, we would rather define self-love as the complete and total acceptance of how we are and how we act based entirely upon ourselves, our relative idea of truth, and what is easier in the short term. Quite frankly, it’s a tempting and glamorous view of life.

However, this is a view of life and of love with perilous consequences for the soul. When I hear the lyrics of this song, I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’ interpretation of Hell in The Great Divorce – I hear this young singer shrug off any responsibility other than her own, and I see the Hell-dwellers who became so stubborn, so set in their own ways and their own versions of the truth, that they couldn’t break out of themselves long enough to see the beauty that awaited them. This self-centric view of love and life leads to isolation, to judgment, and to a long-term lack of fulfillment.

This attitude is one that is incredibly hard to crack, but one that we must commit ourselves to resisting – after all, our souls, and those of the rest of the world, are at stake. In the Eucharist, we are reminded over and over again of the true meaning of Love, a Love that draws us in and raises us up, one that compels us to go forth and serve the whole world. This dangerous mindset, one which will certainly be present with me for the rest of my life, is one that can only be conquered by participating in that living and eternal sacrifice.

Sep 8, 2013; Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R. of Indianapolis celebrates Spanish Mass in Dillon Hall. Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

Evangelization to the Children of God

Matt Miller
Director, Office of Worship,
Diocese of Evansville, Indiana

Contact Author


Editorial Note: The following reflection was delivered as part of Morning Prayer during the Center for Liturgy’s recent Symposium, Liturgy and Vocation. We are grateful for the author’s permission to post it here.

You likewise know how we exhorted every one of you,
as a father does his children—
how we encouraged and pleaded with you
to make your lives worthy
of the God who calls you to his kingship and glory.
That is why we thank God constantly
that in receiving his message from us, you took it,
not as the word of men, but as it truly is,
the word of God at work within you who believe.
1 Thessalonians 2:11-13

To exhort, to encourage, to plead…

Saint Paul presents us with a very relatable, very human image in this passage—the comparison of his work with the people of Thessalonica to that of a father and his children. This “child-like” idea is one that we have heard other places in Scripture (I think Jesus may have mentioned something about it—“Let the children come to me. . .”), and perhaps the child is where our attention is first drawn in delving deeper into the reading. jesus-childrenIt is a scene all of us have witnessed and with which we can sympathize—the enthusiastic and/or petulant child who is asking questions, trying new things and testing boundaries, in need of some exhortation, encouragement, and even some pleading from a nearby father (or mother or grandparent or caregiver). In all honesty, we have all been that child at one point or another in our lives, and we probably still can be that child given the right circumstances. But hopefully, as we have grown in wisdom and stature, we have learned to put aside childish things while still retaining the appropriate child-like faith.

Let us turn now to the other character Paul gives us—the father. Like above, we have all had those moments in our lives to be as a parent or caregiver to someone: to exhort, to encourage, and to plead. I propose that we focus on the father and what we can learn from his actions. With Paul’s “father-figure,” there are three components on which I would like to reflect.

First, “we exhorted . . . we encouraged and pleaded. . . ” The father here is doing more than just asking nicely or offering some suggestions—“If you would not mind to do these things I’ve been talking about at some point, I’d really appreciate it. Or not. It’s up to you.” It is much more than that. There is urgency and passion to the actions of the father, as it should be between a parent and a child. Is not this urgency and especially passion what Pope Francis has been emphasizing?In his apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, the Holy Father remarks:

Being Church means being God’s people, in accordance with the great plan of his fatherly love. This means that we are to be God’s leaven in the midst of humanity. It means proclaiming and bringing God’s salvation into our world, which often goes astray and needs to be encouraged, given hope and strengthened on the way. (Evangelii Guadium, §114)

Is that not what Paul is saying to the Thessalonians? In our own world, do we share the Gospel with urgency and passion? Do we exhort, encourage, and even plead when need be?2013111110joy_of_the_gospel_300Second, “we exhorted every one of you . . .” The father, the parent, does not get to pick and choose among the children whom to exhort, encourage, and plead—although some children may need more than others. Pope Francis quotes his predecessor Paul VI when he reminds us that “No one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord” (Gaudete in Domino, §22). Are there people among us with whom we choose not to exhort, encourage or plead? Why do we exclude them? Why would we want to exclude them?

Which leads us to the last point: “in receiving the message from us you took it, not as the word of men, but as it truly is. . . .” Just as the parent does not get to pick and choose among the children, the parent also does not pick and choose the message,to make it up along the way (although it may feel that way to parents and children out there at times), or do it for their own benefit or merit (although you cannot beat a quality “World’s Best Dad” coffee mug).206ab038bb2f72ab607e35fdc4e5525d The exhortations, encouragements, and pleading have their source and roots in something bigger than the parent—they are hopefully rooted in love, in wanting the good for the other. Pope Francis reminds us that “If we wish to lead a dignified and fulfilling life, we have to reach out to others and seek their good . . . and ‘life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up in order to give life to others’.” (EG, §§9, 10). Christ came and offered up his life in order to give life to us, and his Gospel continues to exhort, to encourage, and plead with us today to do the same. That is where our dignity lies; that is where true fulfillment awaits us. And if we truly want this life for ourselves, are not we missing the point if we do not wish it for others as well?

As we spend the next few days in study, prayer and fellowship, let us take Saint Paul’s example to heart. May we never cease our exhortations, our encouragement and our pleading. May we open ourselves to be evangelizers to all without discrimination. And may we stay rooted in the Gospel of Christ, who is the source of all vocations.

Liturgical Polarization: A Diagnosis

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author





PolarizationEditor’s note: This series on liturgical polarization is being written to prepare for a gathering being held at the University of Notre Dame on Polarization in the U.S. Catholic Church: Naming the Wounds, Beginning to Heal on Monday, April 27, 2015. A live feed of this event will be available

Growing up in East Tennessee, I had never heard the terms “conservative” or “liberal” ascribed to liturgical practice. In my own parish as a member of a minority religious community, we would hold hands during the Our Father; celebrate Stations of the Cross and Benediction on Fridays during Lent; use incense on feast days; sing Wesleyan hymns, Catholic chant, and even occasionally we’d dip into the repertoire of Praise and Worship. We were just Catholic, and the way that we prayed reflected this fact. Yet, when I arrived on the campus of Notre Dame as an undergraduate seminarian, I quickly learned which of the liturgical practices that I presumed as normative were in fact on the “left” and on the “right.”

  • “Holding hands during the Our Father is a liberal practice that distracts from the act of communion and should be disallowed.”
  • “Any form of Eucharistic worship outside of Mass detracts from communion and is evidence of a dialing back of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.”
  • “The use of incense necessarily outs you as a conservative; or an Anglican.”
  • “If you want to see chant/hymns/praise and worship, you want to destroy the liturgy.”

Being eighteen years old at the time, I remember entering into PoliticalSpectrumconversation after conversation with others, attempting to figure out whether I was liberal or conservative. Because I did not mind singing hymns during the celebration of Mass and had no particular problem with aspects of horizontal inclusive language, I decided I was a liturgical liberal. Except I also found Eucharistic adoration a gift, loved singing liturgical Latin chant, and wanted to kneel before I received the Eucharist. So I guess, I was a liturgical conservative with liberal tendencies. Or a liberally conservative liturgist.

Of course, it never occurred to me at the time that the problem was not with my own liturgical prayer but with the discourse of conservative and liberal within the grammar of liturgical practice in Catholicism at all. In the years since, I have come to realize that polarization in liturgical practice (evident in the desire to ascribe political categories to such prayer) is a temptation to de-Catholicize the Church. To decide who is an “authentic” Catholic and who is a CINO (a Catholic-in-name-only). Who is in the Church and who is outside the Church. Liturgical polarization is not ultimately a debate about style, or even about the proper implementation of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. It is an ecclesiological heresy whereby we re-create the boundaries of the Church according to our own image and likeness. Augustine dealt with this in Donatism, and perhaps because of the present political climate in the United States, this is the great heresy of our time.

AdOrientamIn the years since my undergraduate seminary days, I have seen this ecclesiological heresy grow like a weed in the verdant field of the Church. I have encountered those who practice the Extraordinary Form speak with derision at conferences of the liturgical reforms brought about at the Second Vatican Council (and those who pray according to the reformed ritual including myself). I have heard prominent liturgical scholars and musicians speak with their own dislike of those who read and find wisdom in the works of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (this also includes myself); or who engage in “practices” that might be perceived as traditional. In both cases, the bounds of charity are broken–a far more serious offense than singing either Lord of the Dance or wearing lace albs. The reality is that all of us who engage in acts of liturgical polarization desire to shrink the size of the Church to those who think and act and pray just like us. Although the liturgical rites of Catholicism do include rubrics, although there is an ordo, the genius of Catholicism remains the plurality of ways that one might pray.

There are signs that this form of liturgical polarization is coming to an end. The students whom I teach at Notre Dame are not quite infected by the same desire to draw boundaries between those on the inside and those on the outside. They do perceive in liturgical practice today in their own parishes violence against the beautiful. Music that is ironically both flat and sharp at the same time. Liturgical spaces in which ideology imposed itself upon theology, tradition, and artistry alike. Homilies that either condemn or are mere wisps of the Gospel.

Dorm Mass in Lyons HallBut these students (many who write for this blog) are just as likely to sing Palestrina on Sunday mornings, sign up to spend a summer serving the poor in India, participate in Vespers at the Basilica, join in an evening dorm Mass where they sing We Are Called, and conclude the week with perpetual Eucharistic adoration. The concern of these students is not in deciding who gets to be in the Church and who is outside of the Church. Rather, it is living a Eucharistic life. It is living in such a way that the gift received in the liturgy is offered to a world craving love. And any liturgical practice that forms them in this way of love is considered gift, considered within the bounds of Catholicism.

These students are for a me a constant reminder that the polarization fostered around the liturgy is not something intrinsic to the life of the Church. That such polarization, albeit the result of real wounds inflicted by bishops and priests and laity who have failed to love at times, need not be the norm. That we, as the Church, are called to something more. To a life that has become a gift because of the God, who first loved us. The liturgy remains for these students (and for the entire Church) a way to experience this gift, this form of self-sacrificial love.

In additional columns to prepare for the conference on polarization taking place at Notre Dame, I will next treat three liturgical (and thus ecclesiological) issues that are perhaps the greatest source of polarization today: the recent translation of the Missal into English, beauty in the liturgy, and the relationship between “priest” and “laity.”


Practicing Lent: Sleep

HopeHope Bethany ’15

Theology Undergraduate

Fellow, Center for Liturgy

A few years ago, while in a class in which we were reading the writings of the Desert Fathers, my class discussed the penitential and devotional practices that the monks of the desert underwent. The Desert Fathers talk about various experiences of denying themselves food, water, sleep, companionship, space, and a host of other needs and luxuries. For a beginner, it was a little shocking to hear some of the practices that the Desert Fathers willingly experienced for the sake of ordering their lives to what truly mattered.

George-IconThe Desert Fathers were, as the Church calls them, “ascetics.” The word “ascetic” is rooted in the Greek root “askesis,” meaning “to train.” Athletes with whom we are familiar train and practice various sorts of disciplines for the sake of their teams and their tournaments; they exercise and work out in specific ways that will help them in their sports; they eat more healthily and may avoid certain foods or drinks while in season (ps, fellow ND students, have you seen the fresh fruit and vegetables at the athletes’ ‘training table’??) . All of these prescribed practices have the ultimate goal of better preparing athletes so that they perform to the best of their abilities in their games, tournaments, meets, etc. In a very real way, the Desert Fathers saw themselves as athletes and soldiers for Christ, training in habits of virtues and in giving up anything that they felt would lead them away from the ultimate reality of God and desire for unity with God.

I remember reading through Benedicta Ward’s collection of the “The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks” and finding the section on self- control downright odd at first. The Fathers wrote about fasting from food, to remind themselves that only the Bread of Life could truly sustain them; at times they drank less water so that they would feel the discomfort of thirst and be reminded 51dTtdOgt+L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_that water from this world cannot quench our deepest thirsts; they smelled dead bodies to remind themselves that death was coming, because they wanted to prepare themselves fully for the day that they met the Lord. I knew about fasting before this class, so I didn’t find that bit so hard to understand. But the smell of death along with this next one (to use very technical language) straight-up weirded me out at first.

“4.2: Daniel said about Arsenius that he used to keep vigil all night. He would stay awake all night, and about dawn when nature seemed to force him to sleep, he would say to sleep, ‘Come, you bad servant,’ and he would snatch a little sleep sitting down, but very soon he would get up again.’

Or this one:

“4.3 Arsenius said, ‘One hour’s sleep is enough for a monk if he is a fighter.”

Sleep is good! Really good! As my anthropology professor said a couple of weeks ago, “To put it simply, without sleep YOU DIE.” So, I want to think about the Desert Fathers and sleep as related to college students—but not in the way you might expect. College students are universally recognized as a sleep-deprived population of people. I remember being presented with a sort of trilemma my freshman year; a bleary-eyed, perpetually exhausted senior in my dorm who was finishing her senior thesis [at 1 am, in the dorm hallway] explained the college triangle of S’s: school, social life, and sleep. You could have two of the three consistently, she maintained, but only two; it choose2was nigh on impossible to balance all three, and the one she willingly gave up was sleep, because YOLO (“you only live once”). Sleep is for the weak, and you can sleep when you’re dead. This was my first brush with the fact that college students generally tend to wear the badge of how little they slept as a badge of honor. As we walk across the quads, it is common to hear something along the lines of: “Man, I had an exam yesterday morning and a paper due last night, so I pulled an all-nighter, took my exam, napped for an hour, and then wrote my paper.” To this sort of feat, folks generally pat each other on the back in solidarity and admiration.

And now we go back to the Desert Fathers. As college students, shouldn’t we just reconcile ourselves to four years of sleep-deprivation? Could we consider it as ascetical companionship with the Desert Fathers? Maybe since Lent this year has coincided with midterms and the busy middle part of the semester, we could consider our mid-semester sleep deprivation solidarity with the Desert Fathers…….?

But my short ansdesertwer is simply: no. I think we would be doing ourselves and the Desert Fathers a kind of disservice to assume that our sleeplessness is just like theirs. The Desert Fathers had all the opportunity in the world to sleep. To be a bit simplistic about it, the Fathers were mostly alone and in the desert. Seventeen centuries or so ago, there was not a whole lot to do in the desert except pray, study, reflect and sleep. “Fasting” from sleep in a place where there was no sound but the wind whistling through the desert caves, it probably took monumental amounts of discipline to get insufficient amounts of sleep and then offer that discomfort to the God who created sleep and who rested on the seventh day. Rather than uniting the sleeplessness of the Desert Fathers and the general college student population, my professor instead quipped, “If, for the desert monks it was an ascetical practice to avoid sleep, for college students I rather think getting sufficient sleep would be an ascetical practice!”

The point of all askesis (asceticism), including Lenten practices is to better train our hearts, minds, bodies and wills to realize what truly matters and in what ways things in this world might have too much of a hold on us. In Lent and in other spiritual disciplines that are appropriate to our station in life, we more deliberately put these things that we give up or prioritize at the service of the God who created us.

Quality sleep, of course it, is not to become a god of its own; when friends in crisis need us or other situations arise, charity comes first. But on the whole, it is just as difficult- if not more so- for us to admit our limitedness and prioritize sleep as it was for ancient monks in the desert to stay awake when the more obvious option was to go to sleep.

Actually making sleep a priority mean for undergraduates would mean some pretty intense discipline would have to be enacted in our lives. It means we would have to realize that we cannot always do everything. FOMO [fear of missing out] patients, I’m talking to you, here. Taking sleep as an ascetical practice means we would actually discipline ourselves enough to make those hours of sleep an option: we would need to start work well ahead of time, or resign ourselves to the fact that our essays might not be perfect. Maybe this means less procrastinating, Netflix binge-watching, video game playing, Buzzfeed quiz absorbing, or YouTube viewing. Pick your own procrastinating poison.

That just deals with the needless procrastinating, though. Maybe viewing sufficient sleep as a disciplined spiritual practice also means acknowledging that we cannot do everything; maybe it means we recognize that we could take on an extra club or say yes to another responsibility, but we instead say no. Maybe it means we are tempted to “just finish this oindexne last thing” before bed, but instead we get sufficient sleep and decide we won’t hit the snooze button for an hour in the morning. By being well rested, we will certainly be more efficient workers in the morning. And admitting we need sleep may mean we are humbled in realizing that the world will keep on turning even if we are not quite keeping up with the Sullivans and the Rileys  (the Notre Dame equivalent of the Joneses). The potential results are obvious.  If we are better rested students, we’ll be more productive and we are more likely to live out our vocation as students in a way that we should. It’s a quality over quantity sort of relationship;  we will produce much higher quality work, pay more attention to our reading, study more effectively for our exams than we would by trying to do too much or procrastinating too much, all while living in a state of constant sleep-deprivation.

Disordered prioritizing would have to be eliminated on the other end, too, after our work is done. At times I know that (were I perfectly reasonable,) I could go to bed early and sleep a heavenly 7.5 hours. Then through a combination of Facebook and Twitter scrolling, messaging who-knows-who-about-Lord-knows-what, I lose an entire hour. An hour is precious time, friends. That’s six snooze button hits. That’s almost a full Monday-Wednesday class period. That’s three episodes of Parks and Recreation, or definitely a completed reading assignment.

Leslie Knope, I love you, but you're on the not sleeping.
Leslie Knope, I love you, but you’re wrong on the not-ever-sleeping thing.

At their heart, all ascetical practices will enable us to better live out our call as Christians and our vocation to holiness. In a paradox that the world often finds confusing, by setting limits on ourselves we will be made more free to do what we are actually called to do and to do it well. In college, an environment where constant sleep deprivation is the norm, prioritizing healthy amounts of sleep should actually be considered a spiritual and physical discipline. It would help us to both prioritize what matters and recognize the limits of our time, strength, and abilities. Then, maybe we would offer what we do have time for as a true offering of our effort to God. Considering sleep as an ascetical practice would mean recognizing in the midst of our resumé, achievement-obsessed world that maybe we cannot do everything, all the time.

” Protect us Lord as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake we may keep watch with Christ and asleep, rest in His peace”

“I will lie down in peace and sleep comes at once for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4).

Practicing Lent: Netflix in the Desert

Samuel BellafioreScreen Shot 2015-01-23 at 1.43.20 PM

Undergraduate Fellow

B.A. 2015 Philosophy, Vocal Performance


Go through a dorm on the weekend and you can find a lot of shut doors. If you could see through the doors you’d find the new trend is that students watch shows by themselves, earbuds in, in the privacy of their rooms. People have stopped watching TV together. Call it the Netflix problem.

The Netflix problem is twofold: the first is the temptation of binge watching and second is the loss of community.

For a world that’s so unaware of the infinite, contemporary society also has major problems when it deals with infinity. It’s so easy to keep scrolling down your Facebook newsfeed because it never ends. And the more people post, the more infinitely you can scroll. The same problem occurs at the end of every episode on Netflix and Hulu. You could pick up and move on to another activity. But another episode awaits. “Next episode playing in 15 seconds…14…13.”

house-of-cardsThere’s no time to consider whether to watch another episode. There isn’t even time to consider the episode you just watched. And without a steel will, you’ll almost certainly end up watching another episode.

And how couldn’t you? The cliffhanger ending, which once tried to get audiences back in seven days, now can get them back in under 15 seconds. Obviously the cliffhanger is great artistic tool, but more and more it seems to be the way of getting people to keep watching. It becomes less a part of the story and more a tool to suck people in. And four hours later, there you are.

Is there any substitute for the silent seconds after a book, a show or a sonata ends? Netflix is ironic: The shock of an ending, the thing that urges you to keep watching, is no longer real shock. It’s not primarily emotional, connected deep down to how you relate to the people or events in the show as though they were real.  Shock ceases to be shock and becomes a tool through which you can be convinced to watch some more. Into that shock comes the little corner timer: “15…14…13.”

This relatively new way of consuming media also discourages community. Without the post-show seconds of silence, Netflix and Hulu (and even DVDs) leave no time for conversing. And is there any substitute for processing a work of art? The episode ends. You ask your neighbor or even just ask yourself, “Well?” and a conversation ensues. But this is unlikely because the next episode is right there…and you don’t even have to tell it to start playing. In that case, there’s likely to be no conversation about the characters or what’s happened (let alone speculation about what might happen next…you don’t have to wait to find out). So why would you want to watch with someone else?

Normal as this might seem, I think it’s pretty dangerous. This way of watching undermines community. While the cliffhanger teaches people to relate to shock and not to characters, the immediately available next episode teaches us not to relComputer classate to these characters with each other. When we cease sharing experiences with each other, we somehow even stop experiencing each other. We stop trying to keep track of where other people stand on things. We don’t look for other people’s insights — aren’t there always ones they’d have and we wouldn’t? — and, eventually, we don’t look for other people.

We don’t find it disturbing or even odd that I’d watch House of Cards while my good friend watches the same episode down the hall. If this weren’t real, it would be dystopic.

Lent is so many things. Among them, it’s a recollection of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert. In the desert I think we can find an antidote to our Netflixian negligence, both the binging and isolated viewing.

Most obviously Jesus’ fasting and our Lenten fasting should make us ask: What is really worth my effort? What is worth my time? We’re all pretty aware there are things more worth our time than House of Cards. Christ in the desert asks the sort of thing He asks at the sea, in the garden and by the tomb. “Whom are you looking for?” What are you really looking for?

Fasting asks, Have I exchanged God’s word for bread? Has my temporary satisfaction become more important to me than His eternal nourishment? And then, have I even gone so far as to exchange bread for stones? In the desert, the devil tempts Jesus to turn the stones in bread (Mt 4:3); but Jesus knows there’s something better out there. “Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread?” (Mt 7:9)

The devil wants Jesus to throw Himself off the temple parapet just to see if God will save HJesusTemptedintheDesertIconim. Isn’t this like the curiosity that gets us to watch just one more episode? Curiosity for the wrong reason, just to find out or from some morbid desire to see what terrible things could happen. Satisfaction may have brought back the cat. But curiosity made Adam eat of the tree and he’s been hungry ever since.

Jesus’ time in the desert can also teach us something about loneliness and isolation. If you’re like me, you might be sick of hearing people explain the distinction between loneliness and solitude. For all my being annoyed at the hackneyed explanation, it’s completely true. The Spirit leads Jesus into the desert (Mt 4:1) because, if we are to see clearly, we really must go apart for a while. We do need to be alone, but not simply so we can be by ourselves. The fact that the Spirit leads Jesus into the desert is telling. Jesus goes alone, but He is not by Himself. He goes to the desert to wrestle with His Sonship and to meet the Father. His isolation involves relationship.

This is why solitude is different from “introvert time” or therapeutic rejuvenation. Solitude separates us, not be isolated, but to encounter a living reality. Frankly, this is not the encounter toward which Netflix tends to lead us. As much as I’d like to think looking outward toward characters’ lives and hearing other people’s voices would lead people out of themselves, the way we watch television tends to do the opposite. We stop thinking about the characters. And we stop interacting with our neighbors.

The point is not to avoid technology altogether, but to try to understand what we’re doing. This should leave us chastened. With God’s help, it leaves us with a desire for real solitude.

The opportunity for solitude is elusive. And it’s always possible. But the next episode is playing in 15…14…13…

On “the death of adulthood”

Renée Roden

AmeriCorps Volunteer

This past autumn, the New York Times film critic A.O. Scott wrote a provocative, discursive essay entitled “The Death of Adulthood in American Culture” in the New York Times Magazine regarding the end of mainstream images of patriarchal authority in the American story-telling pop culture, and by extension a death of an image of adulthood. Using primarily American television and movies, but also American fiction, which has historically tended to glorify the adolescent protagonist (e.g., Tom Sawyer, Jo March, Laura Ingalls), Mr. Scott concludes that:

“Adulthood as we have known it has become conceptually untenable. . . . It seems that, in doing away with patriarchal authority, we have also, perhaps unwittingly, killed off all the grown-ups.”

His words struck home to me, as a new adult, still very child-like (or childish) in many ways, but eager to embrace a new era of responsibility. When I began to teach at Cristo Rey this past fall, I was uncomfortable in this new role, and being an adult, at first, certainly, felt like playing a role. I was tasked with being an authority figure for a class of teenagers, but I have not yet established myself as someone with authority. I do not have charge over a career or a home and yet, my job when I enter the classroom is to be in charge—to help the students succeed by knowing where I want them to end up, and leading them there, step by step. In many ways, this art of teaching meant taking on an authority I felt that I had not earned yet, and did not completely know how to assert. But, nevertheless, this was the responsibility that I had been asked to assume: to help others achieve their own potential—to aid them in their journey to grow more fully into their true identity—by setting aside for a moment my own concerns for my own journey to “figure it all out.”

As Mr. Scott writes in his essay:

“To be an American adult has always been to be a symbolic figure in someone else’s coming-of-age story. And that’s no way to live. It is a kind of moral death in a culture that claims youthful self-invention as the greatest value.”

Mr. Scott explains, perhaps, why so many people are adamant on “living it up” in their twenties, before the responsibilities of married life and family descend upon them. In our current cultural narrative, adulthood is a death.  Adulthood is an end. Our current cultural narrative of self is that we bring ourself into being. The broadly culturally-accepted goal of our lives is self-actualization, to be “truly ourselves,” and “you do you.” And, for Mr. Scott, this self-actualization process is impeded by adulthood:

“The elevation of every individual’s inarguable likes and dislikes over formal critical discourse, the unassailable ascendancy of the fan, has made children of us all. We have our favorite toys, books, movies, video games, songs, and we are as apt to turn to them for comfort as for challenge or enlightenment.”

Currently, I find many of my peers drifting. They have no impetus to drive their journey from adolescence to adulthood. As Mr. Scott touches upon in his piece, we are left with no guidelines of how to actually accomplish this celebrated goal of self-actualization, beside the vague commandment which encapsulates the whole law of postmodernism: “Thou shalt do what feels right, thou shalt ‘follow thy heart’ and if something does not feel right, thou shalt avoid it with all thy heart, mind, and strength.” Anchored in these weightless commands, young people in our culture drift aimlesslyThere is nothing in these vague mantras that can actually ground us. We are left at the mercy of our feelings, senses, our whims and varying, changeable tastes.

While the Christian life is about directing our growth into the fullness of self, the Christian ideal of self-realization is fundamentally grounded in one central command: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:25). In the Christian ideal, self-actualization is accomplished through self-donation. As we let ourselves, like the grain of seed, fall to the ground and die, we find that we are born into a newer and deeper life, of which our gift of self was the catalyst.  “Until you give up yourself to Him,” says C.S. Lewis, “you will not have a real self” (Beyond Personality, 67).

Adulthood, then, could be defined as the stage in your life when you decide to live for another; when you make a concrete commitment to put another person’s journey to maturity ahead of your own; when your own search for your identity occurs primarily through facilitating others’ searches for their identity. This is not an easy task. Mr. Scott ends his essay on a nostalgic—almost remorseful— note, but also glibly embracing the new world order of perpetual childhood:

“It is now possible to conceive of adulthood as the state of being forever young. Childhood, once a condition of limited autonomy and deferred pleasure (“wait until you’re older”), is now a zone of perpetual freedom and delight. Grown people feel no compulsion to put away childish things: we can live with our parents, go to summer camp, play dodge ball, collect dolls and action figures and watch cartoons to our hearts’ content. These symptoms of arrested development will also be signs that we are freer, more honest and happier than the uptight fools who let go of such pastimes.
I do feel the loss of something here, but bemoaning the general immaturity of contemporary culture would be as obtuse as declaring it the coolest thing ever. A crisis of authority is not for the faint of heart. It can be scary and weird and ambiguous. But it can be a lot of fun, too. . . . The world is our playground, without a dad or a mom in sight.”
But a world of unrestricted license to do what we please is not freedom. We were made for greater things than smoking cannabis and attending boozy brunches. Our longings and desires cannot ultimately be satisfied by childish pastimes. And if we do not constantly remind ourselves that we were made for more than just the pleasures of the moment, then we risk stunting the growth of our humanity, of collapsing into the cavernous vacuums of our hungry hearts and forgetting all else but pursuing immediately perceivable pleasures. But perhaps the “uptight fools” put away childish things because they had found something more urgent to live for than watching cartoons on the weekend.
 In his memoir of his twenty-some years in Soviet prisons and labor camps, He Leadeth Me, Jesuit priest Walter Ciszek writes of the beauty of human freedom. Young people, he writes, too often imagine that true freedom is absolute license to do as we please, with no obligations or duties attached. Rather, Fr. Ciszek asserts:
“The adult world that a child so ardently desires to attain, that he looks forward to so eagerly and impatiently, is also a world in which freedom is greatly modified by circumstances, by concrete obligations and limitations, and it is only in this real world of daily life that human freedom, such as it is, exists, and not in some ideal order.” (157)
Our absolute and final freedom is found in surrendering our will to another, to offer ourselves and receive in return for our sacrifice, a liberation. In giving ourselves away, in learning to be the adult in the young person’s coming-of-age story, we will fulfill who we are called to be, and discover that we have entered a new stage in growing into the fullness of our identity. Learning to be the adult for another person—for your child, your student,  may not always be easy, it may mean waking up earlier in the morning than we would like, and it probably involves varying amounts of discomfort, but it is in the fulfillment of our daily duty of offering our freedom to others that we find liberation, purpose, and joy.

The discomfort of an authority into which we have not yet fully grown, and a duty that we may not fully embrace is a small price to pay for the joys of adulthood: to find ourselves growing into the humans that we were made to be, to quit dabbling in the distractions of adolescence, and to embrace the demanding and beautiful reality that awaits us.

A Willingness to Receive

Meredith HollandMeredith Holland

Master of Theological Studies Candidate

Boston College School of Theology & Ministry


Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight (Mark 1:3).

For the Marthas of the world, these words invite a life of tangible, fruitful motions. Advent is a beautiful time of service and hospitality; it is a time of active preparation. We busy ourselves with ministries of cooking and cleaning, caroling and adorning.

There truly can be great joy in the baking and the gifting, in the sight of a tree with simple white lights or a reunion with a loved one. We long for the cozy hearth and welcoming spirit, seeking to cultivate a home much warmer and more ready for the coming of Christ than the manger scene into which Jesus was born centuries ago. These ways of preparing and celebrating in community are no less a part of the Christmas story, which asks that we offer love to others in response to God’s humility in His own self-gift.

ParkingLotThe frenzy, though, can become a mere façade of preparation for the deepest truth of the story of Christmas: the coming of the Lord.

The story of Martha and Mary is one that I often need most in my life, a source of both comfort and challenge. I find myself praying through the words of Luke’s gospel often, particularly in small moments throughout an ordinary day.

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her’ (Luke 10:38-42).

Advent is a time when I find it most difficult to pray through this; the narrative of the sisters that is often a first thought in response to busyness is lost amidst the chaos. It is too easy to brush away any thoughts of quiet with thoughts of bustling motion: There is a reason for the frenzy. There is a need for the activity. We must prepare. We are called to give of ourselves as God did in the gift of the Son.

And yet: that God sent his Son is not only a gift of love, but a gift of the capacity to love.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us (1 John 4:7-10).

Sometimes allowing ourselves to receive love is the hardest part – to not be carried away with the physical actions of caring for another through tasks and deeds, but rather to simply be and to will oneself to receive the love of another, of God Himself, that is being offered. We are made capable of living through Him because He first loved us.

Allowing Advent to be a season of waiting means it is an opportunity to make room to receive the love that is being offered in Christ. In MaryMaryAdventthe disordered chaos of the season, we must remember that in order to love, love must first be received. Mary sat and listened. She made room for the Lord and opened herself to his presence in her life. Martha, too, loved the Lord, and loved him through her many things, things that are necessary and good. But in order to give ourselves away in love, we must allow ourselves to receive love along the way.

When we hear “Prepare the way of the Lord,” let this not only be a call to serve, a call to justice, a call to love. Let it be a call to prepare the way for the Lord in our own hearts, for the one thing that we truly need.

Livin’ la vita litourgia

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

“The purpose of all Christian liturgy is to express in a ritual moment that which should be the basic stance of every moment of our lives.” – Robert Taft

One of my responsibilities as an Assistant Rector is to coordinate the communal spiritual and liturgical life of the undergraduate men’s residence hall in which I live. This involves a lot of planning: I work with Campus Ministry and undergraduate “liturgical commissioners,” sacristans and musicians to ensure we are well-stocked in chapel supplies, prepared with music, Extraordinary Ministers and Lectors, and priests lined up to celebrate Mass every Sunday through Thursday, among other things.


As I am sure anyone involved in the planning of liturgy – be it as a choir director, Master of Ceremonies, or sacristan – can tell you, it can be very easy to get distracted from one’s own prayer before and during Mass by all of the responsibilities that come with planning a liturgy: Did we put enough hosts out? Do these hymns make sense with today’s readings? Do these Mass Settings have enough Latin in them to pacify the ‘traditionals’ while also appealing to the ‘liberals’? Did I put too many coals in the thurible (should we even have done incense at all…)? I thought I specifically told the choir not to play ‘Lord of the Dance’… (author’s note: “Lord of the Dance” has been one of my favorite songs since second grade, and I will always stand by it. But if you’d ever like to discuss it’s place in the Mass, I would be happy to talk through that with you sometime).

At least in my own experience, I can sometimes get so caught up in the external trappings of the liturgy (which are nevertheless important), while forgetting to acknowledge the underlying reality that the liturgy expresses. Or, to borrow from Taft, I am often too preoccupied by the individual “ritual moment,” in a way that distracts me from the “basic [liturgical] stance” that should underlie “every moment of our lives.”

I think this is also what David W. Fagerberg means when he speaks of the term liturgical as having two uses – one thin, and one thick: “Temple decorum and ritual protocol is liturgy only in its thin sense; in its thick sense, liturgy is theological and ascetical.” (Theologia Prima: What is Liturgical Theology?: 9) Alexander Schmemann also speaks to this distinction when he writes:

To find the Ordo behind the “rubrics,” regulations and rules – to find the unchanging principle, the living norm or “logos” of worship as a whole, within what is accidental analexander-schmemannd temporary: this is the primary task which faces those who regard liturgical theology not as the collecting of accidental and arbitrary explanation of services but as the systematic study of the lex orandi of the Church. This is nothing but the search for or identification of that element of the Typicon which is presupposed by its whole content, rather than contained by it… (Introduction to Liturgical Theology, 31)

Lest the reader think I am attempting to dispense of attention to liturgy in its ‘thin’ sense, I should note that the external trappings and ritual protocol of the liturgy are indispensable, as are the people who are committed to its planning and ‘execution,’ so to speak. This is an important role, and should not be dismissed. I am a big believer in beautiful liturgy  (to the extent that human hands can make a liturgy beautiful). But it can behoove even – or rather, it can behoove especially – those of us involved in liturgical ministries to have liturgy’s “thick” sense held before our faces a little more often; to be reminded of the basic stance that is expressed by the individual “ritual moment” that is the Mass.

More than hymns, incense, prayers and ritual – though it includes all of these things – liturgy is fundamentally an eternal reality, expressed in an individual moment. I think we should concern ourselves with the planning of reverent and well-thought out liturgies, but this work should draw us further into the ‘thick’ sense of liturgy – not further away from it. So often we are so concerned with thin liturgy, that we completely lose sight of thick litourgia. And it is the thick sense of liturgy – the underlying reality of the Eucharist, the kenotic love of the Trinity extended eternally and through all ages – that we are called to live. Again, the externals of the Mass play a significant part in this, but ultimately it is the total self-emptying of Christ in the Eucharist that I participate in and that overflows into my life and ministry as an Assistant Rector.

This kenosis, this gift of self, defines liturgy in its most fundamental (thick) sense, and it is such a disposition – a liturgical stance of self-emptying love – that should undergird every moment of our lives. To recognize such does not invalidate our attention to the “externals” of the liturgy, but rather expands and reorients such attention, reminding us that the true source of liturgy is Christ’s work, not ours. And our efforts to coordinate and plan beautiful liturgies – which are not by any means rendered meaningless by this recognition – should serve only one purpose: to lead all (ourselves included) deeper into the mystery that is Christ’s self-gift in the Eucharist.

Liturgy is meant to be lived, even more so than it is meant to be planned. I have learned as an Assistant Rector that things like setting up for Mass, scheduling priests and choosing hymns can also serve as external expressions of an eternal kenosis, when I allow them to.


Do Not Be Afraid: The Spiritual Legacy of Saint John Paul II

Chris LabadieChris Labadie

MA Candidate, Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary

Director of Liturgy, Saint John’s University Campus Ministry


Every Sunday afternoon I gather with a couple of the undergraduates who work in our Campus Ministry office for liturgy planning. We pray the collect of the Sunday which we are planning, we go around the circle reading what the lectionary offers us, and then I open with a question, “What are your thoughts?” What I want is for these young students to get used to actually listening to what they are hearing in the weekly readings. As they listen and make connections I want them to be able to voice those connections by offering thematic possibilities for hymns, choral pieces, and ritual SaintJohnsUniversityactions that will serve our campus community well in the liturgy. What I invariably get are a couple moments of silence as I look from person to person, trying to catch their eye. Finally, as if in pain, someone mumbles a thought in the form of a question: “Something about sheep?” That triggers someone else to offer the idea of God as a shepherd, leading and protecting his flock. The ideas can begin to flow more freely at this point and the planning can really begin.

At a recent meeting of this liturgy planning team one of our youngest members, a freshman, looked like she really had some idea to share. I poked and prodded until the student finally offered the suggestion of a piece they thought might work for the liturgy we were planning. It was a piece that I too had been thinking about and I told them as much, hoping to encourage further suggestions. I asked why there was such hesitancy whenever I asked for suggestions and the response I received was one that I have heard in many of my interactions as a campus minister: “I didn’t want to sound stupid.” Most everyone encounters this feeling at some point in their lives, perhaps especially those of us engaged in ministry! What if we say something wrong? What if someone thinks our opinion is worthless or is offended by what we say? It can be a paralyzing fear, and it sure seemed to be for these students when it came to liturgy planning. I know that in my own experience of ministry there have been times when I was paralyzed by the fear of doing or saying something that was wrong. I am positive that some great moments of grace, some great moments of encountering Christ, have been missed because I was too afraid to make a misstep. But what is worse, being so unable to take the risk that we let the moment of grace pass us by, or taking the risk by reaching out for that encounter with Christ even if we do not find what we were expecting?

This week we celebrated the first liturgical feast of Saint John Paul II. In an unusual liturgical phenomenon his feast day is not celebrated on the day of his death but on the anniversary of the inauguration of his pontificate, October 22. On that day in 1978 the new Pope offered the homily which in many ways would come to define the message of his pontificate. He knew that the young JPIIPopegeneration of people around the world were in a state of flux after almost two decades of social change. Many were unsure what role Christ had in their lives. They were paralyzed with the fear that if they followed Christ they might be ostracized. The Holy Father challenged that all with four simple words: Do not be afraid. He challenged the young people of the world to be open to Christ, even when the political, economic, and cultural situations would say otherwise. Do not be afraid. It is only when we are open to Christ that we are able to overcome the paralyzing fears that can plague us – in ministry, in our relationships, in offering a hymn suggestion at a liturgy planning meeting.

This is the message that I have tried to take to heart in my own ministry, and it was the message that I offered to the student that day: Do not ever be afraid to offer something, to speak up, to put yourself forward. It is the only way that we are going to have those moments of grace. It is the only way that we are going to encounter Christ in one another. The student was able to offer a few more suggestions during the meeting and has been more open in subsequent interactions. I hope that all of us can have experiences that build confidence in the knowledge that when we offer something of ourselves to others in the name of Christ we can never be stupid, we can never fail. Do not be afraid.