Author: Timothy O'Malley

There Is No Salvation Through the University

The 173rd commencement exercises will take place at the University of Notre Dame this weekend. Like most University commencements, there will be a good deal of self-congratulatory statements about the remarkable promise demonstrated by the class of 2018. Likewise, there will be generic exhortations to the newly minted students to “change the world,” to respond to the “unique challenges of this generation.” Yet not everything about these commencement exercises is quite so formulaic. At the conclusion of graduation on Sunday morning at Notre Dame Stadium, students will sing the Alma Mater once more (this time facing their parents and friends). The personification of the University as “nurturing mother,” as the place that brought the students into wisdom, is shared across colleges and universities. Students at Harvard College sing out in praise of “Fair Harvard!” The Bulldogs of Yale pledges themselves in song to God, country, and Yale. At the University of Tennessee, students clad in orange and white sing a wistful hymn commemorating the search for wisdom begun “on a hallowed hill in Tennessee.” Notre Dame’s Alma Mater is …

Catholic Education and the Market’s Technocratic Paradigm

  I was recently in Scotland for a meeting of the Association of Catholic Institutes of Education (ACISE). As an organization, ACISE focuses on the interrelationship between religion and education primarily within European society. As a body, it exists to respond to the so-called “technocratic paradigm” that seems to have attached itself to educational institutions throughout the world. Such a technocratic paradigm reduces the act of education to learning outcomes and goals provided by the state, forgetting to form students in the dispositions of wonder, hope, critical inquiry, and a religious humanism that has marked the Western educational patrimony for generations. As an American interloper in the conversation, I experienced a bit of cultural disorientation. The American system of education has so radically separated religion and the state that it was nearly inconceivable for me to imagine a world in which the state determined the religious curriculum of the school. Yet, throughout Europe, as secularization continues particularly among the social elite, there is a sense that religious education is under attack by the state itself. …

Being Liturgical

Near the conclusion of the Liturgy of the Word in the Easter Vigil, we hear in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4). St. Paul contends that baptism kills us. It ends a form of life marked by the power of sin, beginning a new mode of existence in Christ. The mind of the Christian, the nous, says Udo Schnelle in the book Apostle Paul: His Life and Theology, “cannot renew itself out of its own resources but is dependent on the initiative of God, who places the mind in his service, for which it [the mind] was originally intended” (536). To have Christ’s mind means that one no longer operates out of the logic of the fallen person marked by an economy …

Sacramentalized but Not Evangelized?

The phrase “sacramentalized but non-evangelized” has entered into contemporary ecclesial parlance. The unevangelized person who has received the sacraments is formally part of the Church. But such a person does not quite grasp his or her new identity as “baptized into Christ.” The sacraments have been ontologically “efficacious” but not subjectively so. The reason this phrase has been so quickly adopted is its value in capturing a problem in ecclesial life in the post-conciliar era. The sacramental life was once part of a broader formation into Catholic identity grounded in the family and the local neighborhood. The milieu was Catholic. After the Council, significant social and cultural changes unfolded in which the Catholic milieu crumbled. Simultaneously, the Church articulated in the Council documents a high bar for fruitful participation in ecclesial life. It was not enough to just enter the Church, to attend weekly Mass, and to receive the sacraments before death. One was called to sanctify the entire created order. In this sense, the phrase “sacramentalized but not evangelized” captures this new era of …

The Serious Sacrificial Body

I am embarrassed by the sacrificial body of Jesus. Don’t get me wrong. When I teach undergraduates, I am more than happy to address Jesus’s identity as the suffering servant who takes upon himself the sins of the nation. I am pleased to teach how in John’s Gospel, Jesus is the light of the world that conquers the darkness of sin and death. I delight in showing how the Lamb once slain in the book of Revelation is a counter-polis to the Roman Empire (and thus every Empire that follows—including our own). In each case, I seek to lead students beyond a moribund fascination with the death of Christ to its broader location in salvation history, its meaning for humanity hic et nunc. I want students to see Christ’s death as a coherent sign, pointing toward a form of life in which self-giving love is the very meaning of existence. I suspect that I mean well in my approach. But in doing so, I (and thus my students) am too quick to pass over the serious …

The Hospitality of Adoption

“I hope that you’ll have one of your own one day.” Anyone who has adopted a child has heard this statement more than once. As an adopting parent of two children, I’ve learned to grit my teeth and smile, offering this gentle retort, “Well, I happen to see my children as my own. But thank you.” The simmering anger that normally accompanied my response has dissipated over the years. I’ve replaced the rage with a reasonable question: why is my well-intentioned questioner so concerned about having a child who is biologically one’s own? Biological parenthood, of course, is a good. The human race does need to be propagated. The wonder of sexual union (in addition to it often being fun) is the possibility of a new life coming into existence. From the mutual affection of man and woman, from self-gift, a child may be born. The child takes on characteristics from the mother and father, reflecting back to husband and wife the gift of their union. From the result of the love of two, a third …

Letting the Imagination Out to Play

Last weekend, I was in Philadelphia for the Society for Catholic Liturgy. This “multidisciplinary association of Catholic scholars” seeks to promote the “scholarly study and practical renewal of the Church’s liturgy.” The theologians, architects, philosophers, pastoral liturgists, and musicians of the Society range from advocates of the “reform of the reform” to those more sympathetic to Msgr. Francis Mannion’s “recatholicizing approach, one that “seeks a recovery of the sacred and numinous in liturgical expression which will act as a corrective to the sterility and rationalism of much modern liturgical experience.”[1] The Society brings together both those who prefer to celebrate the usus antiquor, the Latin Mass, as well as Novus Ordo Mass-goers who suspect that the low-Mass mentality of the pre-conciliar period has been canonized in the current ars celebrandi and aesthetics of the reformed liturgy. While attending this event, I often found myself returning to a passage from Artur Rosman’s last column on the retrieval of a Catholic imagination: Church life must once again become the heart of the Catholic imagination, but the onus of …

Editorial Musings: Restoring Sacramental Magic

This summer, I attended the biennial congress in Leuven, Belgium of Societas Liturgica, an ecumenical gathering of liturgical historians, theologians, and musicians from throughout the world. The congress’ theme was that of sacramentality. Rather than understand the sacramental through traditional categories (matter and form, substance and accidents), the various lectures of the congress sought to grasp the sacramentality of life itself, the manner in which God’s presence permeates history. This “sacramentality” of existence then should allow us to re-consider the nature of liturgical practice in post-modern, secular society. While sacramentality (the permeation of divine presence in human history) was held up as a virtue, magic remained a vice. The dismissal of sacramental magic is ubiquitous in modern (and even post-modern) works of sacramental theology. Louis-Marie Chauvet’s account of the sacramentality of existence—required reading for all those involved in liturgical theology—makes a habit of warning against a “magical” interpretation of the sacraments. A magical account of the sacraments would be one that does not concern itself with the intrinsic link between ethics and the sacraments. It …

The Hope of the Assumption

Glorious things are spoken of you, O Mary, who today were exalted above the choirs of Angels into eternal triumph with Christ (Entrance Antiphon, The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary) Elite athletes exist at the edge of the possible and the physically absurd. Last year, in Brazil, we learned this once again: The marathon runner, who pushes his or her body beyond human limitations to complete the 26.2 miles in the same time that it takes to drive a car from South Bend to Chicago. The swimmer, whose powerful legs and lungs, enables her to move through the water in record time, all the while performing with grace. The sprinter, who runs so swiftly, with such ease, that we re-imagine what the human being can do when formed according to such perfection. The gymnast, who defies all laws of gravity, in the vault, the parallel bars, the floor routine. At the end of the Olympics, do not all of us (no matter the lack of our own athletic prowess) in some way expand our imaginations to …

The Supper of the Lamb

Today, I boarded a train from Leuven (where Societas Liturgica is meeting) for Ghent. After years of teaching the Mass to undergraduates, of inviting them to gaze with wonder upon the supper of the Lamb of Van Eyck, I couldn’t leave Belgium without seeing it. I arrived at St. Bavo’s Cathedral after a thirty minute walk from the train station. Escaping the rain, I walked into the cathedral and began to wander around with the rest of the tourists. We passed through the nave of the Church, the high altar, various side chapels, until we arrived at the chapel in the back of the church that housed the Ghent altarpiece. I paid my 4€ and joined the dozens of tourists to see the altarpiece. Each day from 12:00 PM until 1:00 PM, the altar piece is closed, showing the image of the Annunciation. I arrived in the chapel at 12:47 PM and began to pray the Angelus, joining myself with the Marian prayer of the Church. The prayer was uncomfortable. The tourists continued bumping into …