Author: Timothy O'Malley

The Carnival of Corpus Christi

In late medieval culture, the feast of Corpus Christi was an occasion for a carnival-esque celebration. Plays were performed throughout the city, remembering the entirety of salvation history. Processions unfolded upon beds of roses, as prince and pauper alike praised the sacrament of the Eucharist. Why was this feast so important that it merited this degree of festivity? After all, in some ways, it’s strange to celebrate a feast for the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Isn’t every Sunday a celebration of Christ’s Body and Blood? Can we not feast upon God’s flesh and blood every day in our parish? Yet setting aside a feast for Corpus Christi enables us to meditate upon the sublime gift of the Eucharist. Already in the Old Testament, we see this sacrament prefigured in Melchizedek’s offering of bread and wine: “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, the creator of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who delivered your foes into your hand” (Gen 14:19–20). A sacrifice of thanksgiving for God’s victory over his enemies is offered …

Trinitarian Matters

After the joy of the Easter season, it may feel like a letdown to celebrate the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. The proclamation that Christ has risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, seems more important than announcing the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father. The descent of the Spirit upon the Apostles at Pentecost, who go forth to breathe Jesus’ own spirit over creation, seems more vivifying than letting the world know that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Yet, as the Church teaches, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of the Christian faith and of Christian life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §261). How can something seemingly so abstract be so central to Christian faith? The readings for the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity open us up to the centrality of the Trinity in Christian life. In Proverbs, Christians see reference to the Word’s participation in the very act of creation. The wisdom of the Word was “beside him as …

Awaiting Pentecost

Most Catholics are at least vaguely aware that the Easter Vigil is a high point of the liturgical year. Yet, the Vigil of Pentecost rarely gets the same attention, despite having its own set of extended readings. If we read these texts for the Vigil of Pentecost, we discover that Pentecost is the fulfillment of Easter, not simply the end of the season. In the book of Genesis, we are invited to remember that sin which led to the disunity of the nations. In constructing the Tower at Babel, our forebears sought to ascend above the heavens, to rebel against God. They wanted to build a civilization apart from God, to glorify themselves. The Lord descends, seeing this act of rebellion, and “scattered them from there all over the earth, and they stopped building the city” (Gen 11:8). Those who once spoke one language, now speak many. And at the feast of Pentecost, when the Apostles begin to speak the languages of all the known world through the power of the Spirit, the disunity of …

King of the Cosmos

The feast of the Ascension is puzzling. The full presence of the risen Lord made available during the season of Easter is now interrupted by Christ ascending. The bodily presence of Jesus is no longer immediately available to the disciples. Yet, in both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles (describing the exact same event), the Apostles are not sorrowful about this absence. In Acts, they are told by the angels, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven” (Acts 1:11). They are experiencing a hopeful bewilderment, waiting with wonder for what will happen next. In the Gospel of Luke, we hear what they do during this in-between time. They do not just sit around but as Christ ascends they worshipped him and “then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God” (Lk 24:52–53). Why do …

The Discerning Church

Jesus, in the Gospel of John, shows that he is the supremely masterful teacher. In the final hours before he goes to his death, Jesus speaks to his disciples. Unlike the mere human teacher, Christ comes to give vivifying words. Words that are the very presence of the Word made flesh: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (Jn 14:23). To love Christ, even if we cannot see him before us, is to dwell in union with the Father. It to have God present among us. As the Church turns to celebrate the feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost, we begin to contemplate this new presence. Christ will not dwell with us as he did with Peter, John, and James. But he will send to us, the scattered remnant of Israel, the Holy Spirit who “will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you” (Jn 14:26). In one sense, the Teacher leaves us, …

The Marriage Begins

The Book of Revelation does not contain a series of esoteric predictions about the end of the world. Rather, Revelation presents a world in which the final union of God and humanity is taking place in the presence of the slain Lamb. This ultimate union is described as a wedding: “I . . . saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21:2). This bridal tradition has a long history in Israel. In the Song of Songs, Israel can meditate upon God’s love through a secular bridal song, functioning as an image of God’s courtship: “You are all-beautiful, my beloved, and there is no blemish in you” (Sg 4:7). God desires with passion to be with Israel. The prophet Isaiah goes further, imagining God as dressing Israel as his beloved bride: “For he has clothed me with a robe of salvation, and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, Like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked …

The Call to All Nations

During the season of Easter, we often hear passages that seem to establish a non-negotiable barrier between those who accept the Gospel and those who do not. In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear from Paul and Barnabas that “it was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first, but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46). Does this mean that God has turned away from the Jewish people and now is focusing his attention elsewhere? For Catholics, the answer to this question is a decided no. The Second Vatican Council declared “the Church believes that by His cross Christ, Our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles, making both one in Himself” (Nostra Aetate, §4). The Jewish people can never be abandoned by God precisely because the original covenant that God offered cannot pass away. Divine promises do not disappear. And we still share this covenant with our elder brothers and sisters in faith. What we celebrate during the …

The Joy of Love: 9 Moments to Savor in Amoris Laetitia

In the coming days, those involved in reading ecclesial tealeaves will pour over Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on love in the family (Amoris Laetitia) seeking places where the Holy Father is proposing doctrinal development in a theology of marriage. Others will look for various episcopal influences: Is this section influenced by Cardinal Kasper or Cardinal Ouellet or Archbishop Chaput? Coverage of said document will focus almost exclusively on what Pope Francis refers to as the “irregular” or “difficult” situations: divorced and remarried Catholics (who have not received an annulment) but want to return to Eucharistic communion and those couples who are cohabitating before the sacrament of marriage. But, any reader of the document can discern that what is set forth by Pope Francis is not a Jesuitical way of reforming Church doctrine. It is a substantive, transformative, Christo-centric, Pneumatological, and Eucharistic vision of marriage and family love. The reader of the document, especially if he or she happens to be a member of a family (because of the nature of procreation that will include all of us), cannot …

Time to Believe

Those struggling with religious doubt often believe it would be easier to have faith if they had been witnesses to Christ’s Resurrection. If only they had encountered the risen Lord along the road to Emmaus. If only they had seen the burial clothes in the empty tomb. Yet, on the Second Sunday of Easter, the Church deals with the presence of disbelief even among the first disciples. Locked away in a room on the Sunday of the Resurrection, Jesus dwells in the midst of the disciples, offering them peace. It is God’s very peace, the sudden irruption of life out of death. This peace is present in the power of the Holy Spirit, now given to the once scattered disciples through the breath of the risen Lord. Of course, as we all know, Thomas is absent. He cries out, perhaps in frustration, perhaps in sorrow, perhaps with a heart immersed in doubt, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand …

Entertaining Ourselves to Death

On Morning Edition, Steve Inskeep interviewed Senator Marco Rubio about last night’s Republican debate. Like many political interviews, it included grandstanding in which Senator Rubio offered talking points rather than answering questions. But, the substance of the interview was never really about Rubio: it was about Trump. It was about Rubio’s insulting of Trump. It was about Rubio’s pledge to vote for the Republican nominee, even if that was Trump. It was about Trump’s vulgarity. Rubio was trumped by Trump. The present political climate in the United States reminds me of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. The American people in the person of Donald Trump have found “The Entertainment” that we cannot pull our eyes away from. Our news organizations are participating in this act of entertainment, since after all, this is what we demand. Everything comes back to Donald, whose campaign is infinitely entertaining. We are entertaining ourselves to death. One wonders if there is any way out of this present political malaise. A way to rip ourselves away from “The Entertainment” of a campaign …